On Triggering and the Triggered, Part 1

A few days Jared Wilson unwittingly started a firestorm. He posted on the subject of the recent erotic fiction bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey, arguing that the book represented a sinful distortion of the God-honouring form of authority/submission in marriage. The bulk of the post consisted of a quotation from Fidelity, written by Pastor Douglas Wilson (no relation to Jared) back in 1999. I haven’t read the book in question, but it is available for full view on Google Books. The offending quotation reads as follows:

A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. 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.

True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.

– Douglas Wilson, Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1999), 86-87.

Originally posted last Friday, it swiftly sparked a negative reaction. However, the full force of the storm didn’t begin to hit until Tuesday evening, when Rachel Held Evans posted the following tweet:

WTF, Gospel Coalition? “A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts” buff.ly/Pfu8CQ

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) July 18, 2012

Yesterday Rachel posted on the subject, and since then the furore has blown up to extreme proportions. Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere have been thrown into a screaming tumult. I think that even Google+ registered a tremor.

Rachel writes:

There is so much about this passage that I, as a woman, find inaccurate, degrading, and harmful that it’s hard to know where to begin. That Wilson blames egaliatarianism for the presence of rape and sexual violence in the world is ludicrous and unsubstantiated. His characterization of sex as an act of conquering and colonization is disturbing, and his notion that women are little more than the passive recipients of this colonization, who simply “accept” penetration, is as ignorant as it is degrading. What is perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that even after multiple women expressed their concerns in the comment section, both Jared Wilson and Doug Wilson repeatedly dismissed these concerns with exasperation and condescension, ridiculing the commenters’ lack of “reading comprehension.”

When your sister in Christ tells you that your words trigger upsetting images of rape and sexual violence, you should listen to her, not dismiss her.

Today is the day after. I hope that we have all taken a few deep breaths and a cold shower, prayed for ourselves and for each other, and thought about something completely different and positive for at least a couple of hours. The Dirty Projectors have a great new album out.

The following are some of my thoughts on the whole situation.

The Offending Statements

The statements that appear to have provoked the strongest reaction are the following:

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.

A number of things immediately strike one about these statements. First, Pastor Wilson is bringing complementarianism firmly into the bedroom. There are many in complementarian circles who view their marriages as ‘functionally egalitarian’, their complementarianism only kicking in on the rare occasions where an irresolvable difference of opinion necessitates a deciding vote. Pastor Wilson, at least in this quotation, does not appear to belong to such a camp. Second, in the context of his wider quotation, Wilson’s relating of ‘authority’ and ‘submission’ to the marriage bed raises a host of concerns and questions. Third, he uses exceedingly strong words to describe the man’s actions. Fourth, he uses words that suggest passivity – a ‘lie back and think of England!’ approach – to describe the woman’s part.

I commented as follows on the original post, just before the comments were closed:

Rev Wilson, while agreeing with you that much of the sort of imagery that you refer to is quite clearly alluded to in Scripture, especially in such places as the Song of Solomon, I still wonder a couple of things.

First, while these images are poetically allusive, and many of their referents should be quite apparent to the person familiar with biblical imagery, I would be interested to know why you didn’t feel the need to qualify and clarify their sense to guard against less charitable interpretations that you might feel that they have been exposed to, or simply to set the minds of people for whom such words have very different connotations at ease. While you might read the concept of ‘penetration’ in terms of the biblical comparisons of the bride to a city with walls and a guarded door, or an enclosed garden that the bridegroom enters, for many of your readers it will be nothing more than a crude and reductive fixation on one dimension of the physical act of intercourse. While you might see the notion of ‘conquest’ in terms of one party’s breaking down of the other’s defences through loving action, much as Christ’s overwhelming grace broke down our resistance to him, many of your readers will process such language in terms of common cultural expressions such as ‘sexual conquest’, expressions that denote something objectifying and uncaring. While you might see the concept of ‘colonization’ in terms of the woman’s walled garden being given up to the man and being spoken of as his to enjoy and to cultivate (Song 4:12—5:1), the notion of colonization rings far less pleasantly on the ears of those for whom its primary relation is the callous ‘rape’ of other cultures by Western nations in previous centuries. While you probably understand the term ‘planting’ within the rich, expansive and allusive web of biblical imagery, symbolically relating men and women to sowing seed and answering earth, I suspect that many of your readers are unfamiliar with this background. My concern is that, by failing carefully to qualify and clarify such language in a cultural context where such images may land uncomfortably on our ears, you expose yourself to alienating misunderstandings or confusion, which compromise the reception of your message, and you give your message a potentially objectionable cast which provokes dismay and hurt, or easily hands others the cause they desire to take wilful offence. Have you given thought to the way that such language will be heard by a rape survivor, for instance? I suspect that greater sensitivity to such concerns would mollify many who have been offended to an excessive degree and make uncharitable readings less understandable.

Second, the way that you frame the woman’s role seems to me to represent a failure to explore the rich poetic biblical imagery that seems to underlie your description of the man’s role. The woman seems to be reduced to the mere passive object of the male’s action. Now, I am pretty sure that this is not what you mean, but to many this is how your statements will read, and to the extent that you seem to make little attempt to explore the woman’s action, I am inclined to share their concerns to a great extent. For instance, the agency of the Shulamite is throughout the Song of Songs, and the beloved says rather a lot about what the Shulamite does to him, things that represent a sort of counterbalance to the action of the man. The Shulamite is an image of great strength, an image that leaves viewers awestruck. She is like a great army with banners (6:4, 10), like a glorious tower of strength, or the beauty of Jerusalem. If Solomon penetrates the Shulamite’s walls, the Shulamite totally overwhelms him: ‘you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes!’ (4:9), ‘turn your eyes away from me, for they have overcome me’ (6:5), ‘the king is held captive by its tresses’ (7:5). Solomon may gently conquer the Shulamite with his love, but the Shulamite has already completely overwhelmed him. His ‘conquest’ is not the victory of superior and secure force, but something that occurs to one who has himself been utterly defeated. In this sense, one could argue that the action is less his ‘conquest’ and more her free ‘surrender’: while he is the one awestruck and overwhelmed by her mighty beauty, his victor still surrenders to him (the surprise of this should be marvellous to us). Likewise she is the one who invites the one she has conquered to ‘colonize’ her garden. The freedom of her invitation is no pallid ‘acceptance’, ‘reception’, or ‘surrender’, but a completely free action, neither determined nor reduced in the fullness of its agency by the action of the man.

There is definitely asymmetry within the biblical depiction of the sexual relationship of marriage and of male and female in general. However, this asymmetry is not of a purely unilaterial authority/submission or active/passive character. I believe that a more sensitive and careful reading of the biblical texts will bear this claim of mine out (I am pretty sure that I could match you verse for verse on claims of the man being overcome by the woman next to claims of the man conquering the woman, for instance). The seemingly (I stress, seemingly – I want to attempt to read you charitably here) unilateral character of your vision of free and clear agency in marriage produces a troubling muting of the biblical teaching of women’s agency and even authority relative to men (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:4).

While I disagree with the egalitarians – quite strongly, in fact – I find your views, and those of many other complementarians, no less concerning and sub-biblical on this front, and perhaps even more so given the character of the abuses that it might unwittingly and unintentionally be opening itself up to, especially as they leave themselves exposed to dangerous misunderstandings. Knowing your respect for the Scripture’s authority and guidance on this and all other matters, and admiring your commitment to follow it wholeheartedly in a manner that denies all supposed claims of party, cultural sensitivities, or political correctness, I would ask you to explore more carefully what the Scripture has to teach on the subject of female agency, and not merely absolutize one side of the picture. As you well know, such relationships are not a zero-sum game but a spring of life, freedom, and agency for both parties: I believe that it would serve as an encouragement, reassurance, and blessing to many of your hearers were you to sound with a far less uncertain trumpet the implications of this for women. It might also set the minds and keyboards of a number of your strongest critics at greater rest.

While I disagree with him on this and several other issues, I do not believe that Pastor Wilson is a misogynist, and definitely do not regard him as a supporter or defender of rape culture. Nevertheless, I am concerned that such unguarded and one-sided statements may leave themselves open to the abuse of those who are (and more particularly to the abuse of offence-mongers), especially when abstracted from a clarifying context. My primary concern is to see such unguarded statements replaced with more carefully worded ones. My secondary concern is to see Pastor Wilson publicly, personally, and strongly dissociate himself from the impression that a prima facie reading of his statements might give: that the man’s part in marital relations is oppressively forceful and dominating and the woman’s essentially passive. Why did he choose the words ‘conquer’ and ‘colonize’ over words such as ‘win over’ or ‘build up’? While he has laid a number of these concerns to rest, I would still like to see more clarity on this front. I would also appreciate an acknowledgment that his position was worded poorly and that the same point can be expressed in more appropriate terms.

On top of these concerns, I would like to see Pastor Wilson demonstrate more extensive engagement with the scriptural text on this matter. While one cannot expect a person to say everything at the same time, I believe that we are justified in asking to see counterbalancing and contextualizing statements from writers who make such bold and controversial claims. I would also appreciate Pastor Wilson explaining more closely how he sees the categories of ‘authority’ and ‘submission’ relating to the marriage bed. While I share his conviction that conjugal relations have an inescapable and God-given asymmetry in mutuality, I regard ‘authority’ and ‘submission’ to be, at the very least, unhelpful terms in such a context.

I also believe that the dominance of the categories of ‘authority’ and ‘submission’ in complementarian theology leads with considerable frequency to a theoretical diminishment of the agency of women relative to men. I believe that ‘authority’ and ‘submission’ should have a place in our understanding of the asymmetrical mutuality of marriage, but also believe that the mutuality of marriage is far broader and more multifaceted than this, and that it is quite mistaken to give authority/submission the currency that it possesses in most complementarian discourse. Within the relationship between men and women there is also an asymmetrical reversibility, whereby men must submit to their wives in certain respects. The dominance of a unilateral authority/submission causes us to miss this.

Now, I am persuaded that Pastor Wilson is probably considerably better in practice than he appears to be in theory here. One of the most impressive things that I have witnessed in this entire debate has been the strength, spirit, humour, confidence, independence, and agency of Pastor Wilson’s daughters, especially when witnessed against the embarrassing foil of the (frequently calculated) wilting weakness, passive aggression, and overwrought emotion that is widely on display from Rachel Held Evans and her cohorts (about which more later). The proof of this pudding may well be in the eating: I for one know which characteristics and virtues I would most value and admire in a wife or daughter. All I would ask is for Pastor Wilson to tell us more about how he values such virtues, and how strong male fathers and leaders can empower, cultivate, and support their expression, rather than stifling or undermining them. I believe that this is a message that many complementarians could benefit from hearing. However, as the theory and terminology that Pastor Wilson employs have a lot of influence, I don’t want to let them off the hook.

A Little Context

Pastor Wilson’s original comments were made in the context of a book addressed directly and pointedly to males. The opening paragraph of the first chapter reads thus:

This book was written for men and their sons. I suggest that wives read this only when their husbands give it to them, and not the other way around. The introduction mentioned the issue of “straight talk”—and this means, in part, a rejection of euphemism. Some of what is said here may be offensive to some Christian women, but the point is certainly not to give offence. The point is to provide biblically specific and pointed help to Christian males.

I think that there are occasions when it is completely appropriate to ask women to leave the room – or to stay in at their own risk – and to speak directly and without mincing words to men. There are certain forms of speech that are possible between men that are difficult to engage in when women are allowed to participate in the debate on their own terms, a truth that has frequently impressed itself upon me over the years through my experience in various contexts, and which witnessing the events of the last few days has only reinforced. Speech and debate are fraught with gender issues and within this post I want to speak directly to some of the ignored or repressed gender issues that cause problems in such online and offline engagements on all sides. More about this anon.

The fact that Pastor Wilson’s original comments occur within a work directed to men only is important to take into account when we interpret his words. Read in their original context, I suspect that many of us would take strong issue with his statements, but few if any men would genuinely have been personally hurt or offended by them.

Jared Wilson took Pastor Wilson’s words and put them in a new context. Jared’s concern was to speak against the false vision of authority and submission that emerges in such popular works as Fifty Shades of Grey. As I read Jared’s post, it seems apparent to me that the accent of the quotation from Pastor Wilson as employed within it falls squarely upon the claim that domination and submission paradigms, such as those in Fifty Shades of Grey (and for that matter in less explicit books such as Twilight), represent a reassertion of creational patterns of marital relations in highly distorted, abusive, and sinful forms. While much of the Internet’s ire has been directed against the statements concerning the supposedly ‘conquering’ and ‘colonizing’ character of men’s sexual relationship relative to women, I see little evidence that this was anywhere near the heart of Jared’s point, which was to condemn a form of abuse that people can so easily fall into on account of created predispositions.

All of the above said, I believe that Pastor Wilson’s words were poorly chosen in the context of his book. I also believe that Jared’s use of Pastor Wilson’s statement in the context of his blog post was ill-advised.

Lightening Up

I believe that context and emphasis must be taken into account when determining proportionality in response. People will often say rash or intemperate things in the heat of the moment, or careless things on occasions where they speak too hastily or without proper consideration, things that they would probably like to take back if they were given the gift of space and time in which to reflect, and greater insight into the way that their words would be taken. Sometimes people flail out in anger and say things as a kneejerk and unconsidered reaction, expressing hurtful sentiments that they do not truly and deeply hold, simply because in their anger they wish to cause the other person pain.

We should resist giving such statements weight. In giving them weight, we immediately respond by attacking, and in so doing force the other party onto the defensive, forcing them to give weight and to stand by statements that are at best an ugly caricature of their deepest thoughts and sentiments. If we are generous enough to believe the best of each other, query statements before giving weight to them, and to allow overheated conversations time to cool down, we might be surprised at how readily such statements are withdrawn. By refusing to give much weight to statements uttered carelessly or in anger, we also protect ourselves from hurt and offence, and preserve relationships that might otherwise have broken down. People seldom truly mean the most hurtful things that they say to us. I am persuaded that the way that this debate has been handled has put both Jared and Pastor Wilson in a position where they are pressurized to put more weight on careless and ill-advised expressions than they originally intended to, or would have done had people responded carefully, rather than just reacting.

There is a flipside to all of this, of course. People who frequently speak carelessly, unguardedly, overreact, shoot their mouths off, become shrill, or lose their tempers will find that thinking and cool-headed persons accord ever less weight to their words as time goes on.

In order to give people the space and atmosphere in which they feel able to retract comments, we need to cultivate charity, patience, and good will towards each other. We need to master our own instinctive urges, learning to respond thoughtfully, rather than merely reacting in kind. Crucial to this picture is good humour. The reactive person always treats everything with extreme seriousness. The good humoured person is able to take things lightly when they need to be taken lightly, without losing the ability to take things seriously when necessary. This sort of good humour can defuse such conflicts with surprising ease. Sadly, I fear that such Internet debates would make humourless reactives of us all.

Look, here’s a Pomeranian puppy:

Authorial Intent

Our words are like sons. They bear our image, but can become prodigals. Pastor Wilson’s words wandered far from their original home and – dare I say it – have engaged in a little of the semantic version of riotous living. In such situations, though, I believe that we should beware of visiting all of the sins of the son too readily upon the father.

The meaning of our words exceeds authorial intent. Authorial intent and, more particularly, authorial care in expression can set certain limits upon meaning, but they can never completely determine this meaning. Like children who grow up and fly the nest, our words having left our tongues can work all sorts of unwitting good or mischief.

Pastor Wilson has all sorts of fun with his words. When I encounter his words I am often impressed by their brimming confidence, spirit, and forthrightness, a sure sign that their father is a boisterous and playful rhetorician. They make a refreshing change from the pusillanimous, disingenuous, manipulative, nervous, passive aggressive, and mean-spirited words that I so often encounter from other writers online. This said, sometimes they do so love to throw their weight around in a careless manner and can hurt some people who should be protected, or clumsily bump into carefully arranged furniture. On such occasions, I wish that their good-spirited and playful father had exercised a little more careful discipline on them while they were still at home.

Still on the issue of authorial intent, there appears to be a failure to distinguish between the meaning of the statement, and the intention of the author. I believe that there are occasions when the objective meaning of statements should be pressed against their author’s avowed intentions. I believe that this is one such occasion (even employing the most generous senses of ‘colonize’ or ‘conquer’, I believe that the choice of these terms over others remains a curious misstep from a wordsmith who generally exhibits such detailed knowledge of his tools). However, although we can argue that the statement does not actually mean what its author intended it to mean, we should not impute to the author a belief that he denies, even though we may hold him responsible for not exercising careful discipline over his words.

On the basis of such statements, people are calling Pastor Wilson a ‘horrible trainwreck of a human being’ and speaking of ‘advocacy of rape’. In response to such people, I must ask where they see Pastor Wilson, or anyone else for that matter, supporting their interpretation of the statements in question. Does anyone really recognize themselves or their beliefs in such characterizations of the import of the statements? If they don’t, would it be possible to turn the temperature down in here just a little, and to try patiently to work with each other, discovering what each party really does mean, and how we might go about couching our convictions in language more propitious to the charitable reception of our arguments?

If we have the duty to exercise discipline over our words, to ensure that they represent us honestly and clearly, especially in our absence, we also have a duty to seek, in the reception of other’s words, that we are taking those words in a sense that represents them most fairly and accurately. If our opponents cannot recognize themselves in our interpretation of their words, something has probably gone wrong along the way.

A Few Remarks on Persons

One of the things that has saddened me in this debate have been some of the extremely defamatory statements that have been so readily hurled in Pastor Wilson’s direction, by persons who have obviously made little effort to acquaint themselves with the details of the situation, or who have gone on little more than Rachel’s word. We have a playbook for dealing with such situations. Here is one important principle from it:

Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, the younger as sisters, with all purity. – 1 Timothy 5:1

Biblical speech is conditioned by considerations of age, office, and gender. Certain forms of speech are appropriate in some settings and between certain persons, but not appropriate in contexts or between different persons. This is an issue that I will return to at a later point.

Pastor Wilson is almost 60, and an ordained minister of the gospel. He has been instrumental in the founding of a church, school, university, ministerial training programme, and denomination. There is a biblically-enjoined way that we should speak to such a man, even when we disagree sharply with him. We should accord him respect and speak to him in a manner that shows the particular honour due to those who are our elders and also ordained servants of Christ’s Church.

The Internet exacerbates our modern egalitarian atmosphere of debate, where age and office are no longer accorded their rightful honour, and where office holders and our elders are routinely subject to disrespect. I have certainly failed in this regard in the past, but I believe that this is a principle that is especially important on such occasions. In order further to underline this point, I have referred to Pastor Wilson with his title throughout this post. There are other persons who are in a position to rebuke Pastor Wilson were it necessary, but young and unordained bloggers like Rachel Held Evans and me are not in such a position. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we must agree with him, nor that we can’t speak in opposition to his expressed positions.

Rachel Held Evans is a young blogger, who originally made her name from a book chronicling her movement away from her fundamentalist upbringing to one with greater room for a questioning faith. She has since gathered a large audience for her blog and has a new book coming out at the end of this year on her experiments in different forms of biblical womanhood. Her theological training is limited. To my knowledge she is not an ordained minister, isn’t subject to the authority of any Christian institution, nor, by her own account, is she attending any church at the moment.

Why is any of this relevant? Because one’s qualifications and credentials to speak matter, especially when one makes such bold statements. Because one’s accountability for one’s words matters. Because the degree to which your words have been invested into actions that show fruit matters. Now, I don’t deny that Rachel is free to express her opinion. However, I believe that we should be more careful in the weight that we give to such voices in these debates. Not all persons are worthy of the same hearing.

Lest I be seen to be holding Rachel to an inconsistently applied standard here, let me make clear that my voice should be treated in much the same way. I do not speak from any position of authority or honour, but trust that some of those who occupy such positions will see some merit in my words. We all need to recognize the place from which we are speaking.

Read Part 2 here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, The Blogosphere, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

163 Responses to On Triggering and the Triggered, Part 1

  1. konastephen says:

    Excellent post. What I would like to see is a ’Fifty shades of Complementarianism’; one that might bring to light the underlying liberalism (for lack of a better word) that undergirds all of these accounts. That a positivistic (common-sense realist) core may attempt to parody and mimic former accounts of hierarchy and metaphysical grandeur that might better situate the sexes—a coincidence of opposites.
    While I, too, dislike egalitarian views, I find the American Complementarian counterpart equally perplexing…
    You mention ‘virtues’ in your post, but do we here in the West really have a firming footing on this weighty notion?

  2. Chris Yokel says:

    Thank you for such a balanced and reasoned response. This was good for me to read after slogging through a lot of mud in the past few days.

  3. Chris E says:

    “He has been instrumental in the founding of a church, school, university, ministerial training programme, and denomination.”

    There is an extent to which each of those achievements have to be qualified – as they largely amount to an overlapping set of circles over which Rev Wilson presides – and to a degree they are largely beside the point, our dialogue should always be respectful.

    That said, the reaction from TGC circles appears to be focused on critiquing the tone of their interlocutors (and it’s always easiest to make the most extreme the norm here), rather than dealing with the actual substance of any of the complaints. In doing so they run the risk of giving the impression that they believe being right trumps all other virtues.

    • Chris,

      Yes, that is true. Nonetheless, the point that I was making still stands.

      I don’t think that your second comment is entirely fair. Both Jared and Pastor Wilson have engaged at length with critics in comments and elsewhere. While I do not believe that their response has really been sufficient (I would like to see some sort of retraction), they have genuinely sought to respond to the concerns that were raised. I do not believe that Pastor Wilson or Jared have genuinely appreciated the exact nature of the problem. Even if they believe that the meaning of the expressions is not necessarily misogynistic (I agree, but the prima facie reading of them is) and deny that they are misogynistic (again, against their accusers, I have yet to see convincing evidence that they are), there are times to recognize that words were ill-chosen, unsuitable in a context, and despite one’s good intentions, offensive. A careful and humble apology in such a situation is the right thing to do, it seems to me. They don’t have to (and really shouldn’t) accept all of their critics’ claims in order to give such an apology.

      All of this said, the tone and approach of many of the leading interlocutors really is worthy of strong criticism, for reasons that I will deal with in more depth in my next post.

      • EMSoliDeoGloria says:

        Just a question: by whom is Rev. Wilson ordained?

      • EMSoliDeoGloria, thanks for your comment.

        Having taken it in good faith that this was a clear cut issue, I have discovered that it isn’t. A friend pointed me in the direction of Pastor Wilson’s discussion of the nature of his appointment to ministry here. There are definitely serious and troubling irregularities surrounding his appointment as a minister – as Pastor Wilson himself readily acknowledges. However, he is a recognized pastor of a congregation, both by fellow ministers, and by his congregation. Much as I believe that persons such as Knox and Calvin were valid ministers of the gospel, despite extreme irregularities, so I believe that Wilson is one, and should be accorded the respect due to such persons, even though we should (quite rightly) challenge the legality of the means by which he became one.

  4. mattcolvin says:

    There are different ways of attaining authority for one’s writing, and different sorts of authority. Over the past 12 years, I have never seen Pastor Wilson either retract the substance of his remarks or apologize for the way he said anything. This diminishes his authority considerably in my eyes, to the point where I definitely give far more heed to what you write, Alastair — not because you’re ordained (you’re not), but because you have shown a sustained habit of measured, careful speech expressing a great depth of thought in a way that shows charity to your interlocutors. Wilson, by contrast, has shown a repeated willingness to caricature and offend. He then excuses this tendency as a mere side-effect of his exuberant love of words. I don’t buy that excuse.

    Did he accept your correction? My money says he didn’t, but I will go visit his blog and find out.

    • Thank you, Matt. As they come from someone whose care and insight I greatly admire, your comments mean a lot.

      He didn’t respond to my comments, perhaps in part because Jared closed the comment thread just after accepting the batch of comments that mine was in. I have left a link to this post in the comment thread in his first response post. I hope that he will take the time to respond at some point.

      Sadly, I fear that Pastor Wilson may have too great of an attraction to a clever turn of phrase, and the associated incessant projection of smartness, for the good of his thinking or his hearers. This is one of the reasons why I generally avoid reading his material nowadays. I will be discussing this in more depth in forthcoming posts, but being accountable for one’s words, and being prepared to retract or apologize for them on occasions (without, of course, merely allowing all of the objections of your critics), is necessary if you are to retain credibility. We all sin or slip in our words on occasions: if we never apologize or retract a statement we may gain a sense of rhetorical self-righteousness, but we stand to lose much of the respect and hearing of others in the process.

      • AndrewF says:

        Sadly, I fear that Pastor Wilson may have too great of an attraction to a clever turn of phrase, and the associated incessant projection of smartness, for the good of his thinking or his hearers.

        I thought the same – in reading his responses, I thought the core points & observations were often right, but I was uncomfortable with how he put it.

    • Josh T. says:

      And on the issue of how one has attained authority, how does Jesus fit into the discussion: Matthew 7:28-29

      “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

      It seems to me that age, position, gender have more to do with appropriate ways of showing respect, but if someone speaks the truth (in response to something wrong), does an unordained person not have some sort of authority based on the truth that they are proclaiming? What about the biblical prophets? Being ordained or having a multi-decade ministry doesn’t preclude someone from being in the wrong. What about how “rudely” Jesus spoke to Annas the high priest after his arrest? Or does he just get a pass because he’s Jesus? I’m not trying to say Jesus and the Wilsons’ detractors are equivalent (Jesus’ miracles and signs testified to his authority), but maybe there’s something here of relevance to the discussion.

      • Thanks for the comment, Josh. Good question.

        I think that Jesus is a special case in certain respects. However, in other respects he is not. Jesus was submissive to lawful authorities over him (for instance, in his childhood). Although he had knowledge and insight sufficient to baffle the teachers in the temple in his youth, he did not begin his public ministry until he had attained to the age of thirty (when the priest’s ministry began), and not until he had been baptized by John, declared to be the Son by the Father, and anointed by the Spirit. His authority was not merely on account of the truth of his words, but was also related to his commission and his setting apart for his mission through his baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan (notice that Jesus refers people to John’s practice of baptizing when they ask him concerning the source of his authority). He was ‘ordained’ in this event, and spoke with the authority of that ordination and anointing, not merely the authority of the truth of his words.

        Once again, the prophets had the authority of a divine vision and we also read of a sort of prophetic investiture for the most important prophets – an event in which they received authority. I have posted at considerable length on such events in the past (read the posts following this one).

        I do not deny that there is a sort of ‘authority’ that comes with gifted speech, whose wisdom is recognized by others, even when the speaker is young, unordained, and relatively inexperienced. However, even such speech does not negate the importance of office and age, and is qualitatively different from the authority of speech exercised by the ordained or elder person. If even Jesus was seemingly publicly silent until his baptism and anointing, perhaps that should give us a measure of pause when it comes to the question of the weight that our voices should naturally command within public debate.

      • Josh T. says:

        Thanks, Alastair. Some good and interesting stuff in there.

  5. Chris E says:

    I stand by my second point. Whilst they have interacted with their critics, the interaction has mainly consisted of re-iterating the ‘rightness’ of their original statements and impugning the motives of their critics. As well as using the nuttier tendency to cast themselves as victims.

    ” I do not believe that Pastor Wilson or Jared have genuinely appreciated the exact nature of the problem.”

    The failure to do so, whilst not being misogynistic, demonstrates a staggering lack of empathy in people employed as pastors.

    • Your original comment read ‘That said, the reaction from TGC circles appears to be focused on critiquing the tone of their interlocutors (and it’s always easiest to make the most extreme the norm here), rather than dealing with the actual substance of any of the complaints.’ I disagree that it was just tone that was focused upon. To the extent that the substance of perhaps a majority of the complaints was that the statements were inherently misogynistic, they have sought to address the substance of such claims, and at considerable length.

      This said – and I will be treating this in more depth in my other posts – I completely agree with your point about the lack of empathy and the complete tone-deafness that seems to come with this. We need to recognize that the technical meaning or truth of our words can be quite distinct from their effect in certain contexts. An indifference to such effects, while quibbling over technical meaning, can produce a very real, though unwitting, mistreatment of women and others, even when the offending statements were not technically or intentionally misogynistic. The meaning of utterances is also context-dependent. In their original context, in a book written explicitly to men, Pastor Wilson’s remarks were neither necessarily misogynistic nor offensive, even though they involved extremely poorly chosen words and left themselves wide open to misogynist readings. In a more public and mixed forum, such remarks can (and did) genuinely become offensive, irrespective of their technical truth or original meaning. Recognizing that and apologizing shouldn’t take much. Sometimes it is appropriate to cause offence – and I believe that there are occasions when we should even say things in a way calculated to cause offence (again, more on this anon) – but we should go to what lengths we can to avoid being a cause of offence to the weak, wounded, or vulnerable. Christ takes particular concern for such persons.

  6. Lily says:

    “…although we can argue that the statement does not actually mean what its author intended it to mean, we should not impute to the author a belief that he denies, even though we may hold him responsible for not exercising careful discipline over his words.”

    Totally agree. This seems like a common sense thing to me. No one is perfect and I would imagine there will always be those who take offense, regardless of how benign a blog post may be. It’s far better to err on the side of love and giving people the benefit of the doubt than to respond so viciously by hurling ungodly and venomous accusations at people. I literally felt nauseous after reading the comment section on both RHE and J.Wilson’s blog.

    Thank you for a very refreshing post…and I loved the puppy picture. 🙂

  7. David says:

    One thing I greatly respect about Pastor Wilson is that he is truly God fearing. I see so much of this back and forth and I think about the other settings I’ve seen him in. He’s stood for Biblical sexuality in front of a extremely hostile GLBT crowd and he’s stood for the classic core beliefs of Christianity and done so winsomely with Christopher Hitchens. He’s not a perfect man, and he certainly knows that, but regardless, he steps into battle and endangers himself time and time again for the sake of the Bible and also for the sake of the more timid of us who need to see an example of boldness in our day to help us become more bold. He’s says numerous times that his goal in debating Hitchens was not only to win Christopher but also to encourage believers who have doubts. Unfortunately, I think people have been leaving out the didactic element out of this whole thing. We not only learn from the arguments, but also from how and where they are argued. Wilson recognizes that words are important and that sometimes fighting over words is actually a very strategic fight worth having (especially for people of the Word). At the very least, and however imperfectly executed, Christians would do well to imitate his Biblical fearlessness of man and his joyful submission to God and His word.

  8. Matt J. says:

    (From the comments)
    “Pastor Wilson may have too great of an attraction to a clever turn of phrase, and the associated incessant projection of smartness, for the good of his thinking or his hearers. This is one of the reasons why I generally avoid reading his material nowadays. I will be discussing this in more depth in forthcoming posts, but being accountable for one’s words, and being prepared to retract or apologize for them on occasions (without, of course, merely allowing all of the objections of your critics), is necessary if you are to retain credibility. We all sin or slip in our words on occasions: if we never apologize or retract a statement we may gain a sense of rhetorical self-righteousness, but we stand to lose much of the respect and hearing of others in the process.”

    This. Right. Here.
    Doug, Doug, you’ve written so many books. I’ve read a bunch of them over the past 10 years. Some of the ideas I don’t agree with, but much of it is so very good. But in those thousands of pages, thousands of quickly written posts on your blog, do you not ever miss the mark? Not once? Not a single word? You came close to hinting so once with that extra chapter to The Serrated Edge that you posted a few years back, but even that was phrased as, “I’m writing this because a bunch of boneheads misunderstood what I wrote the first time.” Not, “What I wrote the first time could be misunderstood.”. A little humility, just a little would go a LONG way for your credibility. You often say you must not compromise scripture by apologizing for it’s language. Indeed. But you need not do that to apologize for some of your own at times. It’s not the same thing. Some of us really want to think the best of you Doug, (you do after all, live just down the street) but you make it hard sometimes.

    At this point, I think we may see something from Jared, apologizing for taking Doug’s passage out of the context of a “for men only” book and posting it out in the wild without the original disclaimer or something similar.

  9. p duggie says:

    “Second, the way that you frame the woman’s role seems to me to represent a failure to explore the rich poetic biblical imagery that seems to underlie your description of the man’s role. The woman seems to be reduced to the mere passive object of the male’s action. ”

    The whole book as a work does that. I think the wrenching of the quote out of the context and purpose for the book set everyone off on the wrong foot.

    ppl can still disagree with the whole work; i might in some places. The quoted section of the book is even, tonally, like an afterthought to a discussion of rape in general. And its not great in drawing the connections between egalitarianism and BDSM/rape.

    • Thanks for the comment, p duggie.

      I agree with you that removing the quote from the context and reading it in abstraction from the purpose of the book is unhelpful. I would highly recommend that people read the whole book, or at least the relevant sections of it, more closely before claiming to present a more complete picture of Pastor Wilson’s position on this and other related matters.

      I still think that Pastor Wilson’s way of framing things in the offending statements is profoundly unhelpful, even though mitigated to some degree by considerations of broader context and teaching. It reads as an extreme formulation and I do not believe that there is any explicit clarification of what exactly is meant by the words ‘conquer’ or ‘colonize’ in the book as a whole. It is the forcefulness of the images associated with the man’s role, alongside the natural passivity of the images associated with the woman’s role, all wrapped up in the context of discussion of authority and submission that causes the offence here. I really don’t think that Wilson should simply be given a pass on this. Broader contexts can elaborate or qualify, but broader contexts can’t bear the full burden of the meaning of a particular passage, and we really have to grapple with the particular words that Pastor Wilson used in these statements.

      While I don’t claim that Pastor Wilson or his statements are misogynistic (although, taken by themselves, it is a stretch to read them otherwise), I strongly stand by my assessment that they were extremely ill-judged and unhelpful.

  10. Pingback: A brief and respectful note to Doug Wilson | Carpe Cakem!

  11. Beth says:

    Alastair, I have visited your blog before and have been edified by your well-reasoned and even-handed discussion of male/female roles as presented in the Bible. Again, in this situation I very much appreciate the tone that you have taken and can only wish that more people in this debate (both this particular one as well as the long-term debate over roles) would temper our words and thinking, and practice the Christian charity that your posts on this topic exemplify.

    I do have one question that may be somewhat beside the point, but it has to with the following statement you made about the context of the quotation that has caused such a brouhaha:

    “The fact that Pastor Wilson’s original comments occur within a work directed to men only is important to take into account when we interpret his words. Read in their original context, I suspect that many of us would take strong issue with his statements, but few if any men would genuinely have been personally hurt or offended by them.”

    If I may speak from a female perspective on this point, I am not sure that the question is one of being personally hurt or offended by the statements themselves. While it is gratifying to think that some men such as yourself would take issue with the statements Pastor Wilson made, what I find repugnant about the words in question (and what I assume many other women do as well) is not that they cause hurt or personal offense, but that the attitude behind them — the one that you so eloquently point out as being a lack of nuance and understanding about the female role — is quite prevalent in conservative Christian circles. It is not hurtful and offensive, it is frustrating! The disclaimer that the words were intended for a male audience does not make the frustration factor diminish, but rather fans the flames. If women can misinterpret the words to be misogynistic, demeaning, and one-dimensional, who is to say that men cannot or do not similarly take away from the book that sort of message? A message that now has a stamp of approval by a minister of the gospel? That possibility is what women are objecting to in response to the book. The reaction (over-reaction perhaps) is not necessarily the result of personal offense but a response to what some see as a systemic problem in conservative Christian circles — a problem that quite possibly is fostered by “males only” publications that give force to the idea that there are some truths that women don’t handle well. Some men might take strong issue with the sentiments expressed, but no one would brush off their objections by saying they were taking things too personally. If women object, on the other hand, there is no shortage of explanations why those objections are less worthy of consideration than if a man were to make them: women are emotionally invested and thus not thinking clearly about the issue, we need special consideration because “straight talk” might offend us, any objection to what are “clearly” God-ordained roles “clearly” stems from rebellion or anger toward God, etc. Women are frustrated by the patronizing attitude that men who profess Christ take when it comes to women, and the fact that this book was directed to men only magnifies the offensiveness of the statements it contains.

    While I appreciate your call to consider the context of the offending statement, I am not so sure that the context really has that much to contribute to the debate except for even more offensiveness! The fact that this book was directed to men only (which assumes that women might find something objectionable about it) reinforces the suspicion that men do not take women seriously, that men think they get at the real truth while women can’t handle it, and that words and ideas that might be taken as misogynistic by women are acceptable and non-misogynistic when men read them — that somehow, the essence of the words themselves change if they are being read by men or by women.

    Sorry — this comment has gotten much longer than I intended, but I suppose the question I have for you is more about clarification than anything else. I’ve said quite enough about my own take on the controversy and on the context of the offending passage, but I hope that I have not misunderstood you or put words in your mouth (or blog) that aren’t there! With that in mind, can you elaborate on your above statement a bit, explaining why you believe the male-only context has any bearing on whether the Wilson quotation is worthy of the controversy it seems to have sparked. I know that you are planning to address gender/communication issues in future posts, but it would be nice of you could address specifically some of these concerns when you do.

    Again, I very much appreciate your contribution to the ongoing cultural conversation about this topic. May God bless you!

    • Beth,

      Thank you very much for your comment and for your kind words. You ask some important questions. Thank you in particular for raising the question of the bearing that the male-only context has here. There were definitely loose threads in my argument at that point: I trust that this comment will go some way towards addressing them.

      In my quoted remark, I was trying to draw the distinction between taking strong issue with statements and being offended by them. As will become clearer in follow up posts, I believe that statements with which one takes strong issue and statements that offend hurt or vulnerable people should be handled in differing ways. I also believe that true and originally inoffensive statements can sometimes become insensitive and offensive when employed in a different context. For instance, while I don’t think that arguments made in favour of an armed citizenry are necessarily offensive, making such an argument today might well be, especially if made to someone grieving the loss of a relative in yesterday’s shooting.

      I am somewhat loath to answer your questions in too great detail here, as I would be stealing some of the thunder of my coming posts, where I will tackle some of these issues rather more directly. Suffice it to say that I largely share your frustration about the insensitivity that often surrounds the teaching of male leaders on such subjects. There is often little or no evidence of an appreciation of how things might look from various female perspectives, or from the perspectives of other races or groups in society. Developing such awareness, an awareness that should be present in conversation in male-only contexts, and not merely in conversations between the sexes, is part of what I want to encourage through these posts.

      I believe that there are certain conversations that one cannot have with a more general audience, especially where heightened sensitivities are involved, as the heat of the sensitivities just destroys any possibility of communication and the bringing of light to a given subject. One frequently witnesses this in political discussion, for instance. On the other hand, the fact that there are such heightened sensitivities is often (this case being a notable example, I believe) a huge symptom declaring that there is something profoundly wrong with the prevailing discourse and practice in many circles.

      Words are not just about abstract conformity to truth, but also about being true to each other, hearing each other’s voices, accurately representing one another, and giving up space for other each so that no one is marginalized or alienated. I think a commitment to one side of the truth has often lurched into dangerous falsehood as this duty has been forgotten. Words, and sometimes even perfectly true words, have been used in hurtful and insensitive ways.

      I believe that the male-only context is relevant, firstly because the possibility of forthright words on such subjects causing or triggering personal hurt is much less in such a context. Most men do not have painful insecurities or sensitivities that will be triggered by a fairly spirited presentation of male sexuality as it relates to marriage (although non-heterosexual males might). However, women who have experienced rape or sexual assault, or who feel vulnerable next to such an assertive masculinity may find such a book insensitive or even offensive in its loud proclamation of masculinity. This does not necessarily mean that what such a book says is untrue, just that such truths need to be handled sensitively, recognizing that truth should be presented in different ways in different contexts (much as one might talk about suffering differently in the context of a theological discussion than you might when speaking to the terminally ill patient in excruciating pain).

      Secondly, the book was an attempt to deal with male sexuality and males in marriage directly, not to provide a broader picture of the actions of both parties in marriage. Within such a book, the place of the man will be closely drawn and coloured in detail, while that of the woman only sketched, and presented more or less solely relative to the place and perspective of the man, rather from the perspective of her unique subjectivity. A woman reading such a book will probably feel a little marginalized and some might even feel offended by a picture in which the male perspective is practically exclusive and in which the action and subjectivity of men is concentrated upon to the seeming neglect of that of women. A man reading a similar book for women may feel no less marginalized, but would probably be much less likely to feel threatened as far fewer men in the world or church have been victims of deeply abusive forms of female sexuality.

      In short, Pastor Wilson’s book is not pretending to be a balanced presentation of marriage. It is one side of the picture – the man’s side – and as a strong presentation and assertion of masculinity is perceived to be threatening by many women, sensitivity demands that masculinity articulate itself in somewhat more muted terms in mixed contexts.

      When reading the controversial statements, Pastor Wilson is writing to men to highlight their responsibility and role in sex, not describing both sides of the sexual relation to a mixed audience. Throughout the chapter he is highlighting the particular responsibility of men relative to sex and how this highlights the problem of the sin of rape. While there is a profound mutuality to the sexual relation, Pastor Wilson – I believe rightly – highlights the fact that men are active in and responsible for (especially) penetrative sex in a way and to a degree that women are not. The fundamental sexual act is one with a ‘male –> female’ order to it. This is reflected in the way that we treat the sin and crime of rape and also in other basic ideas, such as what it means for a man or woman to ‘perform’ in such sexual intercourse.

      Read in such a manner – and I stress that I am trying to give a charitable reading here – Pastor Wilson is underlining the importance of this asymmetry by drawing it in the very starkest of terms. He is arguing that failure to reckon with this natural asymmetry will lead to the emergence of abusive forms of sexuality. As an example of what Pastor Wilson is probably thinking of here, I would point to the hooking up culture as it relates to the drinking culture. Pretending that men and women relate to sexual relations in the same way fails to reckon with the male –> female character of sexual relations, and exposes women to great risk in such situations. Rather than being a purely symmetrical situation where either party relates to the act in the same way, we must recognize that sex is at a fundamental level about the man’s initiation and the woman’s consent. If we forget this, we will start to apportion responsibility and blame in very dangerous ways in the case of rape.

      Thanks once again for your thoughtful comment.

  12. Harris says:

    I should think that more attention should be paid to the cultural setting of D Wilson’s original book. The late 90s and early 00s were a time where male assertion was common first in parts of the general culture (e.g. Robert Bly) and then also showing up as an Evangelical shadow, so to speak. For instance, this is the high season for Promise Keepers movement; in 2001 John Eldredge came out with Wild at Heart. My take was that this male assertiveness was a sort of push back to the ironic attitudes of the late 90s and the seeming inability to speak straight (this is rhetorical shadow of political correctness). Such a setting does not excuse the impact of the words; I find them to be biblically at odds with wise speech, as well as being spiritually unhelpful.

    • Thanks for the comment, Harris. I hadn’t given much thought to that historical context. Things are slightly different cultural movement-wise here in the UK.

    • Matt J. says:

      Harris is completely right about the context. I looked back over my copies of Iron John, Wild at Heart, and Fidelity. Wilson, in writing this and Her Hand in Marriage in the late 90s is definitely trying to fill a void inhabited by Jungian mushiness from folks like Bly and the evangelisized and open-theism laden pieces from guys like Eldredge. At that time it seemed as if no conversation about sex or gender in America was free from the chains of political correctness. (Nevermind exceptions like Catholics consistently complaining about birth control. Nobody in protestantism was listening.) Into that, Doug wanted to write something much more solid and concrete. I think he largely succeeded, despite some rhetorical missteps (ala this controversy). I went back through those three books (Bly, Eldridge, Wilson) last night and I am astounded at how much better Fidelity is. It’s not even funny.

  13. Andrew says:

    A couple comments, and I will try to be brief.

    1) While I appreciate your willingness to look for the best in individuals, where in the case of D. Wilson, you have given him the benefit of the doubt, I think in this case your generosity may not be warranted (This is not addressing Jared Wilson – for what it is worth, he recently posted an apology). D. Wilson has stated that sex is “something you do to your wife”. The views that he espouses in his writing is not the gospel message. This is not an issue of complementarianism or egalitarianism (the latter camp I am firmly in, but recognize Christians may come to complementarian positions); D. Wilson’s words and arguments have no place in the body of Christ.

    2) Further, D. Wilson has also written on the subject of slavery, particularly slavery in America. Without going into detail, his positions are insulting, degrading, and racist. It doesn’t take much reading of what he has written to come to this conclusion. I believe that a majority of people (not the least historians), Christians nonetheless, would come to this conclusion. If so, how can we take ANYTHING he says seriously? I have no respect for him on the basis of this.

    3) Rachel Held Evans (or any woman, or man) has every right to call out D. Wilson, or anyone else, when they are speaking against the gospel. The notion that D. Wilson has some kind of “authority” and younger individuals (regardless of their education) cannot call out people like him is not biblically founded. To represent it as such, I think, is misleading at best. Further, to hold a man who knowingly married off a convicted pedophile to a young woman without her knowledge of said conviction, when D. Wilson knew in full the severity of the situation (http://thewartburgwatch.com/2012/07/18/the-real-doug-wilson-encouraged-presided-over-the-marriage-of-serial-pedophile/), borders on crazy. D. Wilson deserves no respect for his actions and beliefs.

    • Thank you for your comments, Andrew. In response:

      1. I think that Pastor Wilson is prone to extreme rhetorical overstatement. His latest expression (sex is ‘something you do to your wife’) is extremely infelicitous in the current heated context. Do I believe that it is an inappropriate comment to make in the present environment? Yes, I do: my next post will deal with this sort of thing in more depth. Do I believe that it is proof-positive of a fundamental misogyny in his thinking? No, I really don’t.

      I believe that Wilson is trying to express in a stark and arresting (though unhelpful) form the genuine fundamental asymmetry in sexual relations. While there is a deep mutuality to such sexual relations – something that I don’t Wilson himself denying – men and women bear significantly different relations to the sexual act.

      These differences can be seen in the fact that, although sex requires mutual consent, it is the consent of the woman that is emphasized: the consent to the male’s action. We don’t usually speak that much about the man’s need to consent, because that isn’t usually how the sexual act works. We hold men particularly responsible for situations where consent (of both parties) is unclear, because the man is the one who initiates the sexual act. This asymmetry is very important when thinking about rape, as Pastor Wilson is trying to underline.

      The same asymmetry can be seen in the conjugal relations (focused on penile-vaginal intercourse, not generic sexual relations and associated foreplay). The man is the one with the pressure to ‘perform’. The occurrence of the sexual act is peculiarly dependent upon his activity, his ability to ‘get it up’ and to perform. Relative to the essential sexual act, the woman’s role is primarily one of inviting, eliciting, prompting, encouraging, responding to, supporting, and interacting with his action. While there is plenty of initiation that is proper to such a role, it seems to me that Pastor Wilson is trying to remind us of this fundamental asymmetry. The sexual act won’t ‘fail’ in the same way if the woman doesn’t ‘perform’.

      In this closely defined sense, Pastor Wilson is right: sex is at a fundamental level an action performed by a man towards a woman. This does not negate the woman’s active role by any means, but it shows that it is of a different and less primary character to that of the man. The problem is that, while Pastor Wilson is trying to make a fair point – in this precise sense, sex is not an ‘egalitarian pleasuring party’ as he employs those terms – there is a way to say this in a mixed context that shows respect to women and the heightened sensitivities of many in this area.

      2. Once again, this is an issue that I am going to be tackling head on in my next post, so I don’t want to steal my thunder. I find it incredibly troubling and inappropriate that Pastor Wilson speaks in the way that he does about this subject, and will explain exactly why I think so. I believe that it has deeply hurt his credibility and lost him a hearing from many (I largely stopped reading him when I came across these materials).

      I do not, however, believe that this disqualifies all else that he says from serious consideration. Pastor Wilson has some very wise and important insights. We are called to be discerning, not just reactive readers.

      Do I believe that Pastor Wilson is driven by a racist animus? No, I don’t. Do I believe that Pastor Wilson is racially insensitive? Very strongly. His motives in writing such a shoddy and dangerous book are not entirely clear to me, but I suspect that they have more to do with a temperamental dislike for unchallenged consensus positions driven too powerfully by concerns of sensitivity and political correctness, a contrarian desire to advocate strongly for an alternative perspective in an area where critical assessment can feel stifled by fear of causing offence, and a wish to mitigate some measure of the opprobrium that has been heaped upon the South, by presenting another side of the picture. Such contrarian impulses can be very healthy in stifling and stagnating discourses, but they are incredibly dangerous if used recklessly, as clearly seems to be the case in this instance.

      3. I never said that younger or unordained individuals cannot challenge Pastor Wilson and strongly oppose his position. I have done both of these things, and will do so more in the coming posts. However, there is a biblical way to do this, one that involves showing respect and acknowledging his office and age.

      I am not in the business of interacting with such online accusations. It is not my place to do so, and in my experience over the years, such accusations are seldom as straightforward as they present themselves to be when all the facts and sides of the picture are heard.

      • Andrew says:


        Thank you for responding. I understand the points that you are trying to make in 1), and while I respectfully disagree with those points, I do want to acknowledge that you are much more respectful in your rhetoric than D. Wilson has ever been. With that said, many women have been (and rightfully would be) offended by the notion that “sex is something you do to your wife”, and D. Wilson’s suggestion that this is somehow “Biblical” is offensive to me as a Christian. Further, to loosely quote another commenter on another site about this topic, “if your idea of [Christian] sex isn’t an ‘egalitarian pleasure party’, you’re doing it wrong.” In response to 2), thank you for clarifying on this issue. I look forward to your post. In response to 3), again, thank you for clarifying that individuals can oppose and challenge Wilson; in my opinion, RHE (or any Christian woman, or man) has/had every right to be outraged at his words and actions, and I don’t think that he should “Biblically” deserve some extra respect just because he is a “pastor” or has “experience and training in the church”. As far as his relationship with Steven Sitler and the ensuing events, that is fine if you do not want address it here (it certainly is your blog 🙂 ), but that doesn’t make the situation go away (or the multiple accounts of what happened), and I think it definitely has to factor into this discussion if we are going to have an honest discussion about D. Wilson’s authority to speak on Biblical marriage. Thanks for the feedback and response!

      • mattcolvin says:

        Thanks for your tone and the content of your critique, which is honoring to Wilson in his person and office, and explains patiently the problems with his ways of expressing his views. I sincerely hope that he will acknowledge what you are saying, and think about it. Has he contacted you?

        The Sitler situation and Wilson’s writings about Southern slavery are being dredged up by those who just want a club to beat on him.

      • Thanks, Matt.

        No, Pastor Wilson has not been in contact with me. I suggested the possibility of interaction in one of the comments on one of his blog posts, but have not contacted him privately.

      • Matt, just a brief heads-up to say that Pastor Wilson has responded to my comment on his recent blog post.

  14. Matthew N. Petersen says:


    1) I object to those specific words, and have told Pr. Wilson as much. But they are one sentence of unfortunate words in a very good book. He’s telling guys “don’t mistreat women.” Could those words have been written better? Yes. Does that damage the book? Maybe a very little bit. But not much.

    2) He is definitely not a racist. I’ve read all the books in question, and was around for the whole controversy.

    3) Even the link you provide (a very obvious hit job, by non-Christians) contradicts what you say. She knew what she was getting into, and chose to forgive.

    • Are you implying that Deb Martin and Dee Parsons of the Wartburg Watch are not Christians? Could be please clarify? Because that is a pretty serious accusation, if I’m reading you correctly.

      • Matthew N. Petersen says:

        You’re right. I should have paid more attention to who wrote the piece. I’m sorry.

        The slavery and Stitler hit against Pr. Wilson was, locally, an almost exclusively non-Christian hit on Pr. Wilson ; and many if not most of the sources quoted in the article are non-Christian sources.

        And some of the things it criticizes Pr. Wilson for are just silly. When Stitler came and confessed to him, he told the people who needed to know. Would you rather have it plastered in the newspapers that your daughter had been abused, or would you rather keep it away from the public? For her sake, which would you prefer?

    • Though I’m gratified and relieved that you have conceded that Deb and Dee themselves are, in fact, Christians, I’m still not clear on why you believe their post was un-Christian. Did Deb and Dee say anything that was false?

      Regarding their “silly” criticisms of Pastor Wilson, and his choices to communicate to some and not to others, I have passed your comments on to Deb and Dee and perhaps they can respond to your critique here or elsewhere. And I’m sure they won’t mind my extending an invitation to you to offer your comments on their blog and to engage with them there. Unlike many other Christian blogs, your disagreement with, and criticism of them and their views, will not lead to your comments; being deleted; nor will they ignore you if you pose a direct question to either or both of them.

    • Andrew says:


      1) It’s more than the specific words. Its the attitude that comes with it. The page-long excerpts I’ve read say terrible things, more than just a wrong word used here and there, and do not line up with 1 Cor 7, or the rest of the Bible for that matter. You may feel differently, but you can’t so easily dismiss concerns. Any book that needs a disclaimer along the lines of “don’t let your wives read this book, they may be offended” tells me all I need to know – I won’t be giving the book the time of day.

      2) I understand you may have been around the controversy, but I’m not the only one that has come to the same conclusions. Merely saying he is not a racist does not settle the issue.

      3) Wartburg Watch is run by two Christians…so claiming that they’re not doesn’t prove anything. Does the account not say that D Wilson knowingly set up a pedophile with a woman in his church? Maybe she found out before they married…but does that make it better?

  15. bethyada says:

    Found your blog via this controversy. Some good thoughts.

    One thing it seems to me is that this is a public discussion, and one in an area Wilson sees as where the culture is fighting (thus must be waged), and one that is very important. So even if Wilson were to apologise to individuals in his personal life for inadvertent offence, to apologise here when he does not perceive any fault would be to give his opponents a small victory, thus cede ground to an ideological enemy.

    I think this is an appropriate strategy, though it contributes to the problem of assuming your opponents are bigots. One can offer sinners much compassion, though leading them to change, and not feel the need to rebuke them for everything they get wrong, perhaps not even comment if they do not know Christ. In such a situation you may find compassion in someone you disagree with, you may not even know how much they disagree with you. Yet if that same person is fighting against a culture war, even if it is created by opponents to the gospel, then speaking publicly against such things will colour someone hateful (their opponents will make sure of it). This is especially so in an offence culture.

    I think I have made myself clear, but to illustrate, someone could spend time helping women deal with abortion, offer sympathy, encourage adoption, steer women toward forgiveness in Christ and be viewed by many as good and godly; yet in speaking _publicly_ against proponents of abortion on demand, and those who claim abortion is morally just behaviour, the same person may be viewed by many who do not know him as a fundamentalist women hater with repressed sexual issues (especially after his opponents get thru distorting things). For him to apologise publicly for things he has not done wrong (but offend) will not give him much credibility in the eyes of his advocates or his opponents, and will not advance the cause of righteousness. I am not denying he should seek humility, but this may not be easy to see. And of course he should apologise for genuine mistakes.

    This does not mean that Doug is correct (or incorrect) concerning the complimentarian/ egalitarian debate, but his strategy in the public sphere will need to take this into account.

    This also means one should be careful about being an activist. Both that you get on the correct side of an issue, and that you do not start hating your opponents because you oppose their ideology.

    Aside: To get answers to some of your questions you raise you could read his book, it is a short book, only about as long as some of your posts. 🙂

    • Thank you for the comment, bethyada. I will be tackling the issues that you raise here quite directly in forthcoming posts. I hope that you won’t mind if I wait until that point until addressing these concerns. Throughout this discussion I have sought to distinguish between claiming that someone is saying something untrue, saying that their statements are driven by evil motives or by hatred, and saying that they are saying it in an offensive or insensitive way given the particular context. I think that it is quite possible to say something true in a way that, while appropriate in some contexts, is offensive in others.

      Haha! Yes, my posts are rather long. 🙂 And, yes, reading his book does give some important context.

  16. Like at least one other commenter, I found your blog via a comment on Rachel Held Evan’s blog. I’m only a “limited” fan of hers in that I left the Evangelical fold (the general American version via several denominations and the interdenominational schools I attended – Biola U. and Talbot Sch. of Theol.) about 17 years ago (I’m 62). Indeed, she is “young” (just turned 30 I believe, a couple years older than my older child), but has packed a lot of maturing and serious study into her relatively few adult years. I say “limited” because I differ with her on many theological points (now, though I would have been very close in earlier years). I don’t think she cares about being defended here particularly, but I wanted to make these and a couple other remarks.

    As to her rise to some prominence, largely via the Internet, combined with the reception to her book, I was privileged to get to see most of that. I stumbled upon her blog and started interacting there around 4 or so years ago, well before her book came out, and when her following was relatively small — her posts got generally no more than a couple dozen comments or so, rather than the hundreds they now often get. Then, about 18 months ago, I met her briefly and heard her speak a couple times at the Big Tent Christianity conference in Phoenix. I’ve checked in on and interacted on her blog fairly regularly most of the time over these years. All this history to say what I consider important as a concept, not just personally about Rachel: Rachel now has a large following and the influence she has because she has gained authority in basically the same way an ordained minister does, just not via formal institutions. Her “authority” I see as no less real or important than a pastor’s, though it is functionally somewhat different. And while she would admit to lack of FORMAL theological training, she has “done her homework” to become theologically and biblically well educated. (In my view, the importance of Hebrew and Greek in order to read the Bible in “the original” versions — both of which I studied in college/seminary, and Greek far enough to do exegesis with a lexicon and other helps — is often over-rated, and many pastors lack even that, or rarely rely on it.)

    In sum, true authority comes via the right “heart” and real knowledge and wisdom (and the last, especially, DOES increas with age, if one is growing). People recognize that and vest authority in a person… Real authority does not come via formalized steps of an institution by which “ordination” (or other symbols of accomplishment and acceptance) takes place, although generally such institutions do take care that the true basis of authority is in place when they ordain, so they have a generally useful role. But as to Rachel or anyone… her thoughts, words and actions should determine how much “weight” one should put on what she (or anyone) says, combined with a view to where/how she came to them.

    • Thanks for the comment, Howard. I have addressed some of the issues that you raise here in a response to an earlier comment. There is a qualitatively different authority that comes with office. Also with greater age comes the duty to speak to persons with a more submissive and respectful tone. It seems to me that this has often been forgotten in this general situation.

      I believe that persons with insight, knowledge, experience, expertise, and wisdom – of whatever age – will find weight given to their words. This is a sort of authority, even though different from that associated with office, or the honour associated with age. Rachel’s voice definitely carries considerable weight in such debates. In coming posts, I will argue that she has seriously abused this weight, casting needless aspersions, and igniting a degree of controversy that could have been avoided by a more measured, charitable, and reasonable approach.

      • Thanks for the reply, Alastair. I can grant you a different authority but if it’s “qualitatively” so or not I think is open to major question and thus tough to support. As just one aspect, institutions are far from objective or reasonable, many time, because they have institutional welfare or appearances, etc. in view… Biggest example of recent times might be how much hiding of priest pedophelia went on (not to be discounted, for anyone who might–not necessarily you–because that was the Catholics… Stats are hard to compile for parallels among Protestant ministers, but those who’ve been in places to get some sense of it say that the problem is also widespread there as well, and I’d not be surprised, unfortunately… it’s just not as known-about or publicized). But that is just AN example, not my main point.

        Orthodoxy, almost by definition, focuses more on believing (or saying) the right things, not on the more important authority of behavior and of heart. Ordination is largely around fitting properly with a given institution and it’s beliefs, practices, etc.

        One major problem with all three — Eastern Orthodoxy, RC, and Protestant — concepts of authority (in somewhat differing ways) is that authority is attempted to be traced back to the Apostles, and thus to divine appointment and revelation. That raises a whole major area of study way beyond a blog comment (or even a full post on my own site, which I may, in fact, do as a series sometime). But in a nutshell, anyone Protestant is reliant on the case for Apostolic Authority made by the proto-orthodox and subsequent orthodox church leaders, especially the notoriously inaccurate and “fill-in-the-gaps” (and pretty clearly knowingly so) Eusebius, under the HIRE of Constantine (after switching theological sides, also, btw). Protestants distrust what the RC church had become, and its supposed divine authority, during a time sometime prior to the early 1500s when Luther et al got “protest” going. Going back, when do orthodox Protestants think the RC and its authority can be trusted? And can it be, or the proto-orthodox be continuously from that point back to Paul and the 12 (with replacement Matthias included)?

        There are tons of biblical problems with ANY kind of idea of special “Apostolic authority” as if ordained specially by God, let alone the literally-impossible case for Apostolic succession. A close reading of the Gospels and of Acts in relation to Paul’s epistles shows a very different picture of often-competing and largely independent groups with quite differing theology around both Palestine and the Mediterranean in the first century. This picture is really tough for even many serious Bible students to openly look at or perceive (i.e., have penetrate) because of the very different picture we get instilled from early on (in age or post-conversion time); but it is critical and central to issues of interpretation, theology, church authority, etc., etc. The Church as a whole has a LOT of re-examining to do… and there ARE good guides, for those who want to find and follow them.

  17. I was completely unfamiliar with all of this till this moment to be honest but just wanted to commend you on a beautifully worded and insightful blog.

  18. Kamilla says:


    Just a couple of comments from me.

    First, I have never been so heartened in all of this than I was today after reading an email from a pastor friend (who is also a friend of Doug Wilson’s) as well as reading Doug’s post today. I am certain it will seem harsh, but I can promise you from my long and painful experience both inside and outside religious feminism — that he is bang on target. Painfully so. It is the sort of post that would have engendered outrage in me when I was a feminist myself.

    Perhaps a quote from Flannery O’Connor will help explain the matter:

    “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock-to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures” (Mystery and Manners, p. 34).

    • Thanks for the comment, Kamilla.

      I quite agree with Pastor Wilson’s characterization of many religious feminists in his latest post – it is spot on. However, not everyone in the conversation claiming that Pastor Wilson’s comment are offensive is a religious feminist. Not by a long shot. There are some women who genuinely have been hurt and are vulnerable, and for whom Pastor Wilson’s comments are really triggering. Without denying the existence of strategic offence-takers and those who whip up a sense of outrage by passing on as many statements as they can that will cause hurt and offence to the vulnerable within their community (the offence-trollers, as I term them), I am not prepared to speak as if these wounded and vulnerable people were not present.

      The problem is that such individuals are not really being treated with much regard for their vulnerability by RHE et al. This can be seen in the way that RHE and her ilk consistently expose them to the most extreme and potentially offensive statements from the complementarian camp. The complementarians are then decried as evil misogynist bullies, and RHE and others like her will present themselves as morally outraged by the complementarian atrocity and rush forward to attack the complementarians, while claiming that any attempt to respond is grossly insensitive and cruel.

      Of course, this is a tactic that should be known to all of us. It is called the ‘human shield’. While terrorists using a human shield will express deep sorrow over the harm caused to those who get hurt, they don’t genuinely care: if they genuinely cared about the lives of vulnerable non-combatants they wouldn’t be using them as a human shield in the first place. The value of the human shield is twofold: 1) it protects your position from attack, while allowing you to be as offensive as you wish; 2) it gives incredible propaganda value while such vulnerable non-combatants are hurt or injured. In some instances, terrorists will even show such callousness towards they human shields, that they will seek to draw their enemy’s fire in the direction of the human shield, merely to make the most of the propoganda value. Of course, the terrorists using the human shield approach always present their enemies as the great aggressors and threats to the vulnerable non-combatants, and themselves as the noble defenders and protectors of the weak.

      However, the fact that RHE and her like are using a human shield does not justify us acting without regard for the individuals in that human shield, and merely blaming the wounded innocents on them. Not for an instant. If we take such an approach we become little better than the debate terrorists themselves. We must go to whatever lengths we can to protect the vulnerable and the weak from genuine spiritual or psychological harm, while seeking to present those employing the human shield to tyrannize their opponents and get their way in the debate for what they are. This demands far more careful, measured, and guarded rhetorical approaches than Pastor Wilson is giving us.

      • Alastair, I don’t know if you said much about just how familiar you are with Rachel’s blog, over a period of time. I think your characterization here is very unfair to both the spirit and specific content of her blog as I’ve observed it in real depth over a long period (as I mentioned in an earlier comment)… I don’t read anywhere nearly all of it but am in and out often enough, reading many posts in entirely and some of her comment replies, to say with real confidence that if you had followed or now do follow her blog much, I think you might see a very different picture than the impression you seem to have taken on.

      • Howard, I have followed Rachel’s blog for a couple of years, and engaged at length in the comments on a number of occasions. I am not at all unfamiliar about its character. It has a very friendly, supportive, and welcoming aspect for most participants. However, it frequently – and especially recently – plays upon subtle polarizing moves, moves that enhance the sense of togetherness among those generally supportive of the blog, while seriously misrepresenting and dismissing criticism. This isn’t just about Rachel, but the tone and functioning of the community that she has built up around her.

        Rachel makes some pretty bold, unreasonable, and unsubstantiated claims and some fairly incendiary insinuations about opponents, but she handles criticism very poorly. When people push back and call for qualifications, apologies, retractions, fairer representations, and closer engagement I have all too frequently see her play the ‘you are being insensitive’ card and dodge the challenges. For someone who makes some pretty strong accusations against fellow Christians, one should expect her to be prepared to defend them more closely.

        A community that often finds unity in the demonization of those who hold strongly differing views without may find a considerable sense of intimacy and togetherness, but those outside of the community will often feel extremely unfairly treated as they are subject to reactive attacks and misrepresentations. Following this thread of comments, Rachel has banned me from commenting on her blog. I suggest that you take a look. Many other people who have interacted with Rachel, her blog, and its community for a period of time have had a similar experience to mine. Such a community looks very different from the perspective of those who fit in than it does from the perspective of those who try firmly to challenge some of the popular misrepresentations that are peddled there.

        My perspective is that Rachel is trying to play two games at once. She wants protection from strong challenge that she deems offensive, but she also wants to throw some pretty strong accusations at some Christian leaders. However, if one is going to play the latter game, you should expect some kickback, and the accompanying duty to defend and argue for your position. If you play this game, you forfeit the right to take things personally (or to hide behind the sensitivities of your readers) and must stand up for and defend your claims carefully and in detail (as I have been trying to do on this blog).

    • Pam says:

      So you think it was also bang on target for Doug to tell me I needed ESL classes because I raised some objections with his quote? Were his comments about tinfoil ears also bang on target? You can disagree with feminism all you like, but Wilson is nothing but a cruel bully.

      • bravelass says:


        Of course you think Pastor Wilson a bully. You are duty bound to think so as a good religious feminist.

        Repent of the heresy, forgive your father or husband or pastor, whichever male authority in your life you think has treated you poorly and then we can talk. But until you do so, yes, you will need ESL classes.

      • Kamilla, I don’t want my blog to become a context for such mud-slinging rhetoric between commenters. Or, rather, if there is mud-slinging going on, I would prefer that it be directed solely towards me. Pam offers questions for discourse, and while I do not share her perspective here, it would be good to have a discourse in which we consistently try to believe the best of each other.

        I have appreciated your contributions to the conversation so far. I hope that you can respect my wishes as the host of the conversation for its ground rules on such points. Thanks!

      • Pam, thanks once again for commenting. As I said in my earlier comment, I will be tackling some of these issues in coming posts.

        I don’t think that Pastor Wilson’s position is as simple as one of a cruel bully. The cruel bully is serious about attempting to hurt people. Pastor Wilson is not: he just doesn’t take your position, objections, and accusations at all seriously and sees fit to ridicule them for this reason. I can perfectly understand how deeply irritating and frustrating it can feel to have genuine questions responded to in such a manner. Whether and to what extent such an approach is justified within this conversation is a matter for another post.

      • Pam says:

        bravelass, I’m unsurprised but nonetheless saddened by your response. For you to be a fangirl and say that I need ESL classes simply because I raised issues that disagreed with Wilson (it was quite a long and detailed comment I made, with four specific objections, not just a ‘you’re a meanie poopoohead comment), shows that you aren’t someone worth my time responding to.
        And no male authority has treated me badly, I hold no grudge against any man in my life, so don’t try and create some history for me that justifies your denigration of my comments.

  19. mattcolvin says:

    Well, Doug Wilson has let the other shoe drop: http://www.dougwils.com/Sex-and-Culture/the-politics-of-outrage.html

    Given the tenor of that post, I’ll be very surprised if Doug listens to those who are not feminists or egalitarians, but who have Biblical reasons for dissenting from his way of expressing himself.

    It makes me wonder if the whole thing is not a show put on for the choir, i.e. for the “Amen corner” commenters on Mablog and Femina.

    • I quite agree, Matt. See my response to Kamilla’s comment above for my opinion on this.

      • bravelass says:

        Wish you gentlemen would both re-read Wilson’s post and note his reply to some questions in the comments.

        I don’t think you are being entirely fair to him.

      • Thanks for the comment, Kamilla. I have read Wilson’s post and all of the comments. I also copied and pasted my response to your questions above – which I still stand by. Hopefully he will respond. I really want to represent him fairly here, but I think that there are incredibly important dynamics at play that he just doesn’t seem to be recognizing. I will go back and re-read it, though, just to make sure.

      • bravelass says:


        I think this will appear as a reply in the right place. Please forgive me for playing the age card, but you may not be aware that I am closer in age to Doug Wilson than you (if I am not very mistaken!).

        I’ve listened to enough sermons and lectures, read enough blog posts and sporadically corresponded with Wilson in addition to having mutual friends whose judgement I trust very much — to know that he gets the dynamics at play with an understanding deeper than most will recognize.

        I have an utterly unique position here which is mine only by God’s grace. Which, along with the weirdly wonderful network of relationships God has blessed me with, give me the courage to take the string stands I do.

        Is Doug Wilson perfect? Of course not. Do I agree with him all the time? If you only knew! But I thank my God that his servant, Doug Wilson stood strong and suffered the slanders.

        Now, I think I should exit, stage right

      • Kamilla,

        I have appreciated a number of your contributions to the conversation here. As you say, you have greater first-hand exposure to Pastor Wilson’s position than almost anyone else in this discussion. Even though we don’t exactly see eye to eye on some issues here, I don’t want to lose you from the conversation. For a balanced conversation, it is important to have voices advocating for various positions, and you have some very important things to add to the mix. I hope that you will stay. However, if you decide to move on, thank you for your contributions so far.

  20. Harris says:

    Perhaps because I deal with rhetoric a fair amount, in school and in marketing, that I found a certain irony in the Rev. Wilson’s response. It strikes me as a wee bit odd to decry the feminists as bed wetters with their manufactured offense — a matter of rhetorical persona as it were — while delivering it in a style that is itself more than a little rhetorically overblown. It’s easy once having assumed a highly manner style to fall into the necessity of continuing that same style. We become prisoner to our own outrage. In short, the Rev. Wilson did not strike me as particularly helping his own cause, or the broader one of faithful living.

    • Harris, I agree with your assessment of Pastor Wilson’s response in his latest post as largely unhelpful in the context. However, there is a key difference that marks his rhetoric. Pastor Wilson has a sort of playful detachment from the whole conflict, a detachment that his opponents do not. He is not really peddling serious outrage in his post, but ridicule. While the outraged individuals are intense and serious in their exaggerations, Pastor Wilson is just purposefully getting a rise out of people. It isn’t about serious arguments for him, because he doesn’t seem to think that his opponents are making serious arguments. He is approaching the debate like a parent laughing at their child trying to throw an intensely serious ‘look at me, it’s the end of the world’ temper tantrum.

      And, to be frank, sometimes this is precisely the right response. It is certainly a approach that I would advocate to some of the more extreme voices in the current hoo-ha. You don’t have to take someone making a fool of themselves seriously, and if you do you lose.

      • Harris says:

        Realizing that you’ve left to write, nonetheless, the point raised here needs some further exploration. It’s not as clear as you perhaps would have it.

        First on the contrast between the Rev. Wilson and the feminists: it is simply easier to be jocular, “playful” when one has relatively little skin in the game. Part of the emotional heat can be attributed to a discrepancy in age and life setting. The questions of negotiating relationships are far more serious for a 25- or 30-year old than for a grandfather nearing 60; add to this the setting in a major urban area, as opposed to Idaho. These are the sort of gaps that fuel misunderstandings and increase the emotional heat.

        As to the jocular, playful style — I would offer five observations:
        1) we use the style as a form of group identity. The mutual playfulness and ridicule is part of our belonging. You can see this with sports fans and their happy trash-talking of the other side;
        2) a playful style is often the stuff of long relationships, such as between spouses or debating partners. Again, we enter into the jocular style because of a mutuality;
        3) when directed outward, when the playfulness is focused unilaterally on another, it functions as an assertion of social position. Benignly as parent to a child’s tantrum, but the same mocking voice also becomes the word of put-down. The assertion of ‘fun’ — “I was just joking” — becomes the excuse we tell ourselves. In debate (or blogging) the jocular tone is a way of asserting authority or status, in biblical terms, of “lording over”;
        4) the jocular tone in blogging/arguments strikes me as especially gendered; it’s something guys do. See point one in the sports bar; and
        5) the jocular, even aggressive scornful style is something for the young. And that’s fairly reasonable: the jibe is easier to execute than the analysis. Our humor moves from the superficial and external to the humane, Mel Brooks, perhaps, excepted.

        Taken together, the jocular style is a way of holding people at a distance rather than engaging — I suspect this is one reason by Benedict’s Rule counseled against laughter. Or, to return the question to the Rev. Wilson: having spoken “playfully”, has he spoken wisely>

      • Harris,
        You raise some extremely important, helpful, and pertinent questions here. Thank you. I have already gone some way to addressing them in a forthcoming post.

        While I believe that ridicule is a perfectly appropriate thing to use on occasions, I strongly disagree with Pastor Wilson’s practice concerning the occasions on which and the persons with which it should be used. If you can wait until the later post, I hope that you will find a number of the issues that you raise being tackled. I would very much welcome any further thoughts along these lines in response, as I believe that they make a very substantial contribution to the debate (and my next post will make clear, to the dimension of the debate that I really find the most fascinating, necessary, and useful – the ‘meta-debate’).

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  22. Pam says:

    Alastair, I was disappointed that you completely overlook the very vicious and personal comments Doug made in his responses. I was one of the people they were directed at, and it’s depressing to see his meanness ignored while people’s responses are criticised. You say that because he’s an ‘elder’ I should respect him, but why should I have a single shred of respect for a man who mockingly referred to Nazis in response to my detailed critique and told me I needed an ESL class? And have you read his blog posts since? There’s not an ounce of kindness or care in them, yet it is Rachel you heap criticism on, while defending Doug to the hilt. That doesn’t seem to make any sense. And as for how you describe the Wilson daughters’ responses, well, that’s even more bizarre given what you’ve said about Rachel. Rachel gave detailed arguments for why the post was offensive, the Wilsons just posted ad hominem attacks. Nothing godly or Christian in such behaviour. But given how their father responds to people, that wasn’t a surprise.

    • Pam,

      This is the first of a multi-part response. I have read Pastor Wilson’s posts. I haven’t ignored these things, but just not posted on them yet (I have already written quite a lot ready to post on these very subjects – including the ESL comment in particular). In my point about Pastor Wilson being an elder, I was arguing that, even in responding to much older people with whom we disagree, we must speak in a manner that accords honour to age and recognizes office, whether or not we believe that the person is worthy of the dignity of these positions.

      As I commented in response to Harris above, there is an important difference between the serious outrage of Rachel’s posts and those of others, and the detached ridicule of Pastor Wilson’s. The first makes serious claims; the second is a rhetorical ploy to deal with people who are making arguments that shouldn’t be taken seriously. The first is frequently characterized (as often in this case, I believe) by a reactive and kneejerk posture, where a sense emotional scandal overwhelms reason, argument, accuracy, proportion, and process; the second is a detached and considered response. It takes a particular strength of character to answer personal and largely unmerited attacks with a considered and detached response, rather than hyper-serious kneejerk reaction. I believe that the strength of the Wilson daughters is seen in their ability to make such responses. I appreciate that it may be difficult to understand my reasoning here, and the seeming inconsistency of my response in this respect, but I will explain my thinking here in more depth in future posts…

      Thanks once again for the comment.

      • bravelass says:


        Thanks for the encouragement. I will probably pop back in from time to time, but my schedule for the next week or so will be brutal – including an overnight trip to Chicago for a ministry consultation. It’s not as grand as it sounds, just don’t know what else to call it!

      • Look forward to seeing you back in these parts if and when you can make it. May God grant you safety in travel, and success in the consultation.

      • Flora Poste says:

        Yes, it is difficult to understand your reasoning here. If one has the strength of character to resist an emotional knee-jerk reaction, doesn\’t that make the taunting and ridicule even more morally culpable? Your parent-child analogy fails for me because I would not respect an adult who uses the advantage of emotional invulnerability to taunt and personally insult a child. Which is what D. Wilson and his daughters did.
        The taunts about ESL, tin ears, etc. in particular make no sense to me. Either the book contains potentially flammable language that merits the author\’s prefatory warning, or the meaning is totally clear and there\’s something wrong with you if you don\’t get it. Which is it?

      • Thanks for the comment, Flora. Ridicule is a tactic to be used with great care (care that I don’t believe that has been taken by Pastor Wilson, as I will argue in a later post). It is not employed against vulnerable people, but against people who are trying to get their way by emotional ploys. A child who is genuinely emotionally distressed should be taken seriously and comforted. A child who is throwing a hissy fit to get their way should be shown how ridiculous they are making themselves look and not taken seriously at all.

        As regards Pastor Wilson’s language in the book. Yes, it is offensive in a general context, because it will be heard in a particular way. It is insensitive to use it in such a context for that reason. Does the language actually mean what the offended people hear it as. No, it really doesn’t, as greater knowledge of Pastor Wilson’s writings and views will make perfectly clear.

      • Andrew says:


        You keep saying that Doug Wilson’s vile words need to be understood in their context, but that doesn’t change the fact that the words he uses are still vile and counter-gospel. If he didn’t mean what the vast majority of educated Christian people are taking him to mean, than he should retract what he wrote/said. He hasn’t, because I think he actually believes what we fear he does. If he didn’t, he should have made it abundantly clear. He hasn’t, he’s only doubled down and said more misogynist things. No “context” can change that…I don’t understand why you are giving him do much respect and leeway.

      • Andrew, I think that Pastor Wilson’s expressions were infelicitous and unhelpful. However, within their original context (in a book written for men, prefaced by a ‘trigger warning’) they were not personally offensive. And anyone well acquainted with Pastor Wilson’s work should be clear that what was heard by many was most certainly not what the author intended, nor, for that matter, were they what the words meant in their original context. While I believe that Pastor Wilson should reckon more seriously with what was heard on account of the recontextualization of his words, I really do not believe that he should grant that this is what he intended, or what the words mean.

        My position is that Pastor Wilson would be best off suggesting alternative terms to exchange for the original ones, terms that express his position more accurately. He doesn’t need to grant anyone’s claim that the original terms read in their proper context mean what people say that they mean, nor that he intended them to mean what people said that they meant in order to do this. All he needs to do is admit that he expressed himself poorly, and express his original position differently.

      • Pam says:

        I’ll read your follow up posts in a moment, but I think in future if you do multi-art posts make sure to note what you’ll talk about in the rest of the series – because it really reads in this post that you give Wilson a free pass on his comments.
        I might comment more on what you say in response to Wilson in the other post(s), but I must take issue with your characterisation of his words as ‘detached ridicule’. If comments about Nazis, Huns, and ESL classes were directed at you in such a personal way, I seriously doubt you’d see those words as being in any way ‘detached’.
        As to the Wilson daughters, there is absolutely nothing considered, detached, or mature about snarkily talking about ‘squeaky voiced feminists’.

      • Pam says:

        Ok, just noticed you haven’t posted a second part yet, so I’ll post more of a response here. You talk about two different types of response, and suggest that the ‘serious claims’ response is not worth much, but mocking arguments is great. Sorry, but no. There is no way to have a debate if one side sees engaging in discussion as beneath it – and Doug Wilson quite clearly sees engaging with any questions of his point of view as beneath him. That’s not strength of character, it’s pettiness and poor debating skills (which is quite funny from Doug, who claims to know proper logic and rhetoric). If he didn’t want to participate in discussion he should have stayed out of it completely. Instead, he just posted ad hominems (and is still doing so on his own blog). Again, there is nothing considered, detached – or even unemotional – about Wilson’s conduct in this whole sorry affair. Frankly, his conduct is the sort that gives Christians a bad name.

      • Josh T. says:

        Pam said, “You talk about two different types of response, and suggest that the ‘serious claims’ response is not worth much, but mocking arguments is great. Sorry, but no. There is no way to have a debate if one side sees engaging in discussion as beneath it…”

        I’m with Pam on this point. So the individual responding to criticism has an objective point of view and can determine when a complaint or series of complaints warrants a serious or mocking response? I don’t see how that can work justly, given that the responder is not himself in an unbiased position. I also don’t see how any mocking-but-detached defender actually has enough data to make that determination, nor do I think the readers have enough data to say that Wilson is “detached”; I know his post didn’t seem like that to me when I read it, nor did the posts his daughters made. Frankly, if we want to throw analogies around, it sounded to me like Wilson and his daughters were trying to put out a campfire using napalm–or if we want to stick with the child/tantrum picture–like a parent throwing a public tantrum (perhaps an emotionally-detached mocking tantrum) in front of a whining child in order to demonstrate the child’s foolishness. The whole concept of a legitimate rhetorical device and mocking someone in a Christ-like manner just doesn’t make any sense to me.

  23. Andrew says:


    So now people who objected to Doug Wilson’s vitriol are like terrorists? I’m sorry, but what a joke. Would you care to go ahead and claim that we are being “shrill” and “emotional” over here too? The more you defend him, the more you sound like him.

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew. No, I did not say that those who objected to the rhetoric of Pastor Wilson’s response are like terrorists. I am one who objects, and I don’t think that I am comparing myself to a terrorist. I believe that RHE is a good example of one who employs this dirty tactic, though. My concern is that, in our response, we distinguish between combatants using dirty tactics and those vulnerable non-combatants they are using as their human shield. I have no desire to see the latter get hurt. I also believe that their concerns need to be more powerfully articulated in our debates. About which more later. I am in favour of a very strong and highly critical response to RHE, and I will explain why as I go on, while supporting a far more sensitive response to those whom she claims to represent, along with providing them with means of having their voices better represented in the debate.

      • Andrew says:

        I don’t understand how you see RHE employing “dirty tactics”, but you still haven’t called out Doug Wilson for his racism and misogyny. If that’s not going to change, then I’m bowing out of this conversation. I don’t see how anything fruitful can come from discussing Doug Wilson anymore.

      • Andrew, thanks for your comment. Please be patient. Everything will be dealt with in due time. This is merely the first of a number of posts.

  24. mattcolvin says:

    Alastair, you have taken quite a task in hand — or perhaps a dog by the ears. Good luck with it.

  25. I am going to bow out of this comment thread at this point. I have responded in depth to comments here, but want to focus upon writing follow-up posts, posts that should begin to address many of the questions that remain from or have been raised by these discussions. When these posts are up, I suggest that this discussion be taken up again there.

    Thank you all for commenting! This is obviously a fraught and emotional subject for many here, and I appreciate the patience and temper with which you have generally approached discussing it.

  26. Hey

    I am disappointed in your post because you seem to use phrases about those on the other side of the argument that does not aid good discussion.

    To say that they are shrill is to undervalue their voice. To say that RHE employs dirty tactics is to presume that she doesn’t have a genuine point.

    And to say:

    ’embarrassing foil of the (frequently calculated) wilting weakness, passive aggression, and overwrought emotion that is widely on display from Rachel Held Evans’

    To my mind this is very poor.

    We egalitarians can actually have a genuine view and base this on scripture.

    2) It seems to be missed that the use of words like conquer is a problem for people on both sides of the complementarian/egalitarian debate.

    The view that these words are problematic is genuine and an emotional reaction.

    In my view Pastor Wilson described the intimate relationship between husband and wife in the most unhelpful of terms. At best he was careless at worst he paints such a passive picture of women that doesn’t fit with women in scripture.

    As for your response to it you went to far by characterising Rachel and others in a negative light with the words you used above.

    As for me I fully support Rachel’s attempt at taking a stand against such words.

    When good people say nothing, bad theology will continue.

    • Alan,

      I had intended to drop out of this discussion and pick it up again under a new post, but since you raise some important issues, I will address them here.

      I do not deny for a moment that egalitarians have a genuine view, one that seeks to reason from Scripture, and to engage with opposing viewpoints. I welcome rigorous and challenging engagement on such subjects, and try to engage in receptive and intense discourse on the subject, discourse that moves beyond unhelpful polarizations and one-sided views on both sides. If you want proof of this, I suggest that you look at my extremely intensive engagement (>20,000 words of comments) in the threads of the posts in RHE’s recent ‘week of mutuality’ series. If you would prefer, I could send you files with all of my comments brought together.

      Nor do I have a problem with theological positions and personal perspectives such as Rachel’s being expressed in the debate. I firmly believe that they should receive much more attention than they have received in the past. I am not objecting to an emotional reaction to Pastor Wilson’s comments either. I believe that in the context, the comments were highly insensitive and an emotional reaction both understandable and legitimate. I myself have a problem with the language of conquering/colonization as a representation of men’s relationship to women. I pointed that out in the post above.

      So what is the problem that I have with Rachel’s response? My problem is that genuine debate, if it is to occur, must involve openness to mutual challenge and neither party should be allowed to play the sensitivity card as a response to challenges to their position. We all have a duty to answer objections and prove our case. If you want to make accusations, you need to be prepared to defend them against strong counter-criticism. Rachel has consistently protected her position and extreme claims beneath the shield of sensitivities, hers and her readers’, in a manner that dodges genuine debate. If you can’t have reasonable debate without invoking sensitivities and putting forward feelings of offence as if they were arguments, you need to leave the debate, stop making strong claims against others, and find someone to act as an advocate for you.

      I also have a problem with the way that an intemperate response, making some fairly tendentious claims and insinuations, is justified on the basis of ‘outrage’, while its claims are never properly defended or backed up in response to objections. When hot heads rule the debate in such a manner no real discussion can occur and polarization is the only result.

      We really need a debate on these matters, but it seems to me that Rachel is too emotionally invested to be able to have it in a fair and reasonable fashion. I would far prefer if she found someone less emotionally invested to represent her viewpoint for her, as then we might have a debate that produced light, rather than just heat. Such patterns of advocacy are the approach that we generally follow in politics and law, as we appreciate that most people are not gifted to be representatives of their position: I see no reason why they shouldn’t apply in such areas too. The problem is that leading voices that allow emotion and outrage to displace reason, careful engagement, interpretation, and argument lead to contagions of outrage among their followers. In contrast, persons who can keep their heads are able to have very substantive and extremely challenging, yet respectful, disputation without overheating or falling out in the process, and those whom they represent are less likely to experience polarization as a result.

  27. I appreciate your response.

    I dont want to talk past you on this (as so often can happen when we come from different positions) so I hope my next bit will come across well.

    I spent many years in industry and witnesses the dismissive way that women were treated (often over sexualised).

    When I raised my voice in objection to such behaviour I could only do so as an engaged observer.

    If, however, a woman stood up in such circumstances she would do so as a first hand person in the issues involved.

    As such I had the privilege of being able to make comment in a more detached way. My female colleagues were not as free to do so for understandable reasons.

    This is an example of my reasons for being concerned about your comments to do with emotion.

    You and I have the privilege of not being subject to the results of being conquered etc in a way that a woman is in her context.

    Rachel and others ( including my wife and four daughters) do not have the same emotional distance from the subject in hand as you or I or either of the Ps Wilsons.

    If a woman speaks about the subject and engages her emotions in doing so it does not undermine her point of view.

    And to be honest I think you have been somewhat guilty of the same condescending and patronising behaviour I saw in the male bosses who trivialised the complaints of females in similar ways.

    You may detect my tone is somewhat passionate. You may say I am being emotional but I am not willing to let women be silenced by shouts of emotionalism.


    • Alan, passionate interaction is very welcome: we should be personally invested in our positions. I am definitely not trying to close women’s voices out of this conversation. However, people who cannot control their emotional reactions sufficiently to engage in careful interpretation and closely reasoned engagement with opposing viewpoints cause a lot of damage and make things worse for everyone, even themselves, by exposing themselves to emotional distress that could otherwise be avoided. Such people endanger both themselves and the debate by their participation.

      The person who is ‘triggered’ is perhaps the person who is least equipped to interpret. The triggered person cannot handle nuance. They react to words behaviouristically, rather than responding interpretatively. The triggered person will often also leap to conclusions or insinuations about the other party’s motives and evil intentions, and cast aspersions at their character, while being unable to deal with counter-challenge. I believe that Rachel’s original post and the conversation that she led following it did exactly this.

      It made it very hard for Jared and Pastor Wilson to accept the valid criticisms of their words. When people are accusing you of hating women or being all about seeking power over women, it is hard to accept the genuine claim that your words were very poorly chosen and would necessarily be heard as misogynist, even if that was clearly neither their meaning nor intention.

      Also, triggered people generally react without sufficiently intervening thought. Rachel challenged people to get angry as their first response, and her initial response was anger (‘WTF?’). I would suggest that proper debate requires questioning and interpretation prior to such reactions. People who are overly emotionally invested short-circuit this process and, when they are leading voices in a conversation, they tend to lead others to do the same.

      None of this undermines Rachel’s point of view, or her right to have it represented in the debate. It does, however, undermine her claim to be the one best suited to representing it.

      • But by claiming someone else should represent her you have undermined her position.

        And there are times when WTF is a valid response. It is easy to avoid this when you are not directly affected.

        It’s the same rhetoric used against oppressed minority and slaves and others in history.

        Sometimes you need an angry response.

        Having said that I cannot believe you have fully read what Rachel has put.

        BTW – when did she claim to be the best one to represent it.

        You really do need to stop making hyperbolic statements like this.

        The base line on this is that Ps Wilson used words that have the power to limit women.

        Some of us said that sort of language needs challenging.

        Some like you said ‘stop being so emotional’

        The memories of those bosses all those years ago are ringing in your words sir.

      • Andrew says:

        So when Jesus flipped over tables in the Temle, was he being over emotional or not controlling his emotions well?

      • Alan, thanks for your follow up comment.

        Triggered people do not debate well. I do not blame them for this fact, but I do blame those who would seek to orient debate around their sensitivities. This does not produce a discourse oriented towards truth, but tends to close conversation down.

        Once again I stress that the viewpoints of such triggered women need to be represented in these conversations, but they need to be represented by advocates who are not personally triggered and can interact with positions closely, receptively, and carefully without merely reacting.

        Anger is definitely appropriate on occasions, but not as a kneejerk reaction to something that has yet to be carefully interpreted. Anger was not the appropriate initial reaction here, as Pastor Wilson and Jared both denied the sense that was being given to their words by their critics, and a more careful response was required.

        I have read Rachel’s posts and subsequent comments several times.

        I have no problem with people being as emotional as they want, but those who are trying to debate need to have their emotions under control or the debate will just break down. In debate you have every right to challenge people to get a hold of themselves when they start to let their emotions get the better of them. Debate is like a playing field. If you are injured to the extent that you cannot play, you leave the field and allow the game to proceed in your absence.

        I quite understand how some women may find challenges to emotion-driven reactions, rather than careful and interpretative responses difficult to handle given their background and prior experiences. However, such a demand is necessary in debate, which requires that people are able to interact with and respond to no-holds-barred challenges to their positions without taking matters personally or invoking their sensitivities to close down the challenge. Without such a requirement, debate becomes oriented around people’s sensitivities in a manner that closes down or seriously muddies any genuine quest for truth.

        None of this is to say that emotional reactions are wrong, just that there is a time, a place, and a way to express them. People who are more emotionally vulnerable should keep off the field of debate for their own emotional safety, and so that the debate can be played out successfully. While I am quite attentive to the sensitivities of women surrounding the concept of emotionalism more generally, in the field of debate, such sensitivities must not be allowed to govern anything. We all have sensitivities, but genuine debate involves forfeiting the right to invoke them.

        Part of the problem here is that contexts are confused. A blog like RHE’s is part support group, part voice in debate. As a support group, recognition of people’s vulnerabilities and sensitivities are crucially important. However, as a voice in debate, one has no right to invoke such things to close down opposing viewpoints and debates in your favour, even though you should use them to inform your arguments. Debate is agonistic, confrontational, and challenging, and not a place for mutual affirmation or orientation around sensitivities. If one cannot handle such a context, one shouldn’t seek to act as a voice in the debate, and rather get an advocate to represent your viewpoint instead.

      • I don’t think we are ever going to agree on this.

        You seem somewhat confused.

        On the one hand emotion is understandable. On the other we need to debate in some kind of antiseptic clarity that suits passive aggressive people who feel detached from emotions.

        And finally you misrepresent RHE by saying she is running a support group.

      • Pam says:

        “The person who is ‘triggered’ is perhaps the person who is least equipped to interpret.”
        “Also, triggered people generally react without sufficiently intervening thought. ”

        Way to completely delegitimise any critique coming from those actually affected. Using your logic, the only people allowed to comment are those who have no involvement in the issue, and are therefore are the least likely to raise any questions. If those who are triggered are excluded from discussion because they allow their emotions and experiences to inform their contribution, then you end up with a backslapping contest, not a discussion, and no dissenting perspective is allowed to be heard.

  28. Flora Poste says:

    “Rachel has consistently protected her position and extreme claims beneath the shield of sensitivities, hers and her readers’, in a manner that dodges genuine debate. ”

    citation needed.

  29. Flora Poste says:

    “It made it very hard for Jared and Pastor Wilson to accept the valid criticisms of their words. When people are accusing you of hating women or being all about seeking power over women, it is hard to accept the genuine claim that your words were very poorly chosen and would necessarily be heard as misogynist, even if that was clearly neither their meaning nor intention.”
    Are you saying that being accused of misogyny triggered an emotional reaction in these men? Maybe Doug Wilson should get someone without an emotional investment, who is capable of questioning and interpretation, to represent his position?

    • Not at all. This isn’t about emotion at all, but about concern that the truth of one’s position not be misrepresented. Acknowledging a truth sandwiched between two lies is a dangerous thing.

      • I take it you didn’t see the irony in Flora’s post

      • Alan, I saw what she was trying to do. I don’t grant her premise.

      • But you didn’t address her point.

        You say RHE should have someone else represent because she is emotionally involved, yet Ps Wilson’s can stay engaged.

      • Flora Poste says:

        You are privy to these gentlemen’s private emotions? Why would it be hard to acknowledge a truth, unless you have more of an emotional attachment to “winning” than you do to the truth?
        I have to agree with the commenter above, Doug Wilson’s response did not seem especially detached or Olympian. Jared’s latest response was not emotionally detached either, but showed real emotional maturity and empathy.

      • Pastor Wilson’s response is not being driven by emotion. He has a very cool head. He is making detached ridicule of a person he feels is completely incapable of taking part in reasonable debate. He doesn’t take her or her position seriously, and so he is mocking her. Such an approach is not without justification in debate, although I don’t support Pastor Wilson’s use of it, and have raised my criticisms of him on this directly with him on his blog.

        As I have remarked already, Pastor Wilson has a hide like a rhinoceros. He is not emotionally flustered, nor are his daughters. They are all very capable of tough debate, as Pastor Wilson has proved by going head to head with one of the most pugnacious and able debaters of recent years, Christopher Hitchens, in a series of debates around the US.

      • I m absolutely amazed (and emotional I might add) at the last piece you have put.

        You seem to be suggesting that RHE’s emotional engagement should rule her out of the debate but Ps Wilson’s tone is an acceptable way to act (even if you say you object).

        I want to encourage you to re read your own post and comments and see the lack of cohesion in your argument.

        I feel it prudent to suggest that perhaps your lack of emotional connection with the subject has left you somewhat confused.

      • Flora, I would submit that you have not seen Pastor Wilson in debate on several occasions, as I have. He really is not prone to being derailed by emotion at all. Those who think that he is being emotional really do not know the man well enough to read his tone. He is being dismissive and mocking of a position he deems ridiculous, and has perfect control over himself. The mocking is a strategic tactic. He knows exactly what he is trying to do here: he has written the book on the subject!

      • Alan, my point is that Pastor Wilson, despite his deeply unhelpful tone, is not an emotionally reactive person, even though his positions are full of passion. Pastor Wilson’s tone is completely inappropriate for debate. However, it is not the approach or tone that he generally uses for debate. He uses this tone with people who he deems incapable or unworthy of reasonable debate. It is designed to be dismissive and ridiculing. I strongly defend the appropriateness of such a tone and approach on occasions, though within very different bounds from those of Pastor Wilson. Some people’s positions really shouldn’t be taken seriously.

        When someone who should have the brains and character to know and act better baldly asserts that Pastor Wilson hates women, without presenting any sort of reasonable evidence or argument for this claim, for instance, dismissive ridicule might well be the most appropriate response.

      • Once again I put it to you that you dismiss RHE for having an emotional connection with the subject and yet support Doug Wilson.

        Who made the judge that said emotion had no place in true debate.

        I remind you again that this dismissive behaviour on the grounds of emotion is exactly the tactic of those who seem incanable of hearing the true statement in this midst.

        Now put down the ‘stop the emotion’ card and deal with the issue.

        Colonise, conquer et al are emotive words that serve neither men or women.

        In a culture were women are already taught to be submissive they have the power to be oppressive.

        Doug Wilson was wrong to use them. I, as a man,stand up to say such behaviour does not reflect the Christ who is Lord.

        You, give lip service to an Objection also, whilst blaming those who stand to lose most in the debate; women.

        I put it to you again this is the same behaviour I have witnessed where the victim/sufferer/oppressed (choose the word depending on the severity of the case) is silenced by calls that they are too emotional to be able to reason correctly.

        It is dangerous behaviour and I refuse to accept that Jesus Christ treated women in any way like this.

      • Thank you for your continued engagement, Alan.

        I never said that emotion had no place in serious debate. In fact, I said that passionate arguments should be welcomed. My argument was that emotionally reactive people do not belong in serious debate. This does not mean that one cannot have emotional reactions, and allow those emotional reactions to inform one’s response. However, they cannot be allowed to drive the response, as they seem to have done for many in the present debate.

        The words ‘conquer’ and ‘colonize’ were exceedingly unhelpful and imbalanced, but not offensive in their original context in Pastor Wilson’s book, which had a trigger warning, and was written for a male-only audience in the days before decontextualized quotations were widely spread across the Internet to large and reactive audiences led by persons with limited knowledge of the original source or context.

      • Pam says:

        Given Wilson’s hissy fits, tantrums, and language more normally seen in the schoolyard, he clearly doesn’t have a hide like a rhinosceros. Rather, he reacts to any criticism through yelling louder and louder. Children are taught this is unacceptable behaviour, so it should be more unacceptable from a supposed elder.

    • Flora Poste says:

      Well, instead of just dismissing RHE for being too emotional, you could engage with the substance of her argument. I agree with her that Doug Wilson represents an extreme hardline version of patriocentricity that seems to be gaining acceptance in mainstream evangelicalism. I agree with her that the “conquer and colonize” language is not supported by the Biblical texts Wilson cites to support it. I agree with her in rejecting the premise that egalitarianism is responsible for rape and sexual violence in the world. I agree with her that the impulse that finds the Song of Songs too “vanilla” and in need of sexing up with the language of domination/submission is the *very same impulse* that gives us 50 Shades of Grey. I reject the premise that these impulses exist only in the world and never in the Christian community. I have the privilege of never having been a victim of sexual violence, and am not intimidated by sexist language, so don’t worry about hurting my feelings. Feel free to use all your logic on me. I’m really having trouble parsing what your argument with her is all about anyway. That she called your man Jared a misogynist? She says she didn’t mean that, so does her authorial intent count for anything>

      • Flora, read my follow-up posts. I doubt that RHE has read much of Pastor Wilson beyond assorted scare quotations. I don’t think that she really gets Pastor Wilson’s arguments. For instance, I have seen little evidence that RHE has much of a clue how the notion of ‘authority’ functions within Pastor Wilson’s theological framework. See the section from Fidelity excerpted here), for instance, where Pastor Wilson clearly teaches about women’s sexual authority over their husbands.

        Pastor Wilson’s position on egalitarianism and sexual abuse is that there is created ‘male —> female’ order to sexual relations. Where this is forgotten or denied, women become vulnerable to sexual abuse. His contention is that male exercise of chastity and sexual self-control must be the foundation for any society that protects women from rape. The men is particularly associated with the sexual action, as I argued in response to comments above, the woman with the sexual response. This does not mean that women are not active in sexual relations, nor that they don’t initiate sexual relations in some occasions and contexts, but that action is more characteristic of the male part, and response more characteristic of the female. This is why it is the man that is particularly responsible for sexual relations, as the one more associated with initiation and action, and consent is more of an issue in the case of women (reflected in the way that we treat rape). It is also why what it means for men and women to ‘perform’ sexually have very different characters. Far more depends on the male action.

        The more general principle is that when this order is forgotten, neglected, or resisted and male and female parts in the sexual relation are viewed as indifferent, the sexual egalitarianism that results frequently leads to abuse. A careful reading of Pastor Wilson’s words in context should make clear that he is referring primarily to general cultural views of sexual egalitarianism, not to egalitarianism as a contrasting view to complementarianism in the Church. This is a crucial point that many people seem to have missed.

        Let me give you some examples of the sort of thing that Pastor Wilson is probably referring to. When women are ‘sexually liberated’ in a sexual egalitarian order, what all too often happens is that abusive patterns of male sexuality are let loose. Women start to bear the burdens of the demands of a male sexuality without self-control. They have to take the Pill, have abortions, resign themselves to casual sexual relationships without long term commitment, lower quality life partners, less security against divorce and abandonment, etc. Within such an order, despite the language of sexual liberation and egalitarianism, women are all too often the ones losing out. Pastor Wilson’s argument is that, given the natural order, we must begin with responsible male sexuality.

        I agree with the claim that Wilson’s conquer and colonize language finds limited purchase in Scripture compared to other language. That said, anyone acquainted with the literary canon should appreciate that such language is not uncommonly associated with completely non-abusive sexual relations.

      • So do I understand the proposition correctly.

        Women are treated worse sexually in an egalitarian environment than in a patriarchal one.
        That is a huge claim.
        I would like to see the research that backs this up.

      • Pastor Wilson is not defending some generic patriarchy, which he would regard as frequently highly abusive, but complementarianism, which is a very particular form of patriarchy. His argument is that societies within which males responsibly take the lead are less abusive than egalitarian societies in which males end up dominating women because differing roles and responsibilities are not acknowledged.

        Our culture of egalitarianism has led to the dismantling of protections surrounding sexual relations, established on the basis of the realization that men and women do not play symmetrical roles in sexual relations but that men naturally have the priority in sexual action. This has produced a society with easier divorce, extreme dependence on women sterilizing their bodies, lower male commitment to marriage, loosening of marital norms, such as monogamy, increasing levels of single motherhood and out of wedlock birth, increasing sexual objectification of women and reduction of female bodies to the criteria of ‘sexiness’, porn use, abortion, etc. Treating male and female sexuality as if they were equal and symmetrical all too often leads, as Pastor Wilson argues, to greater male oppression of women and to a situation where levels of female happiness have actually fallen over the past forty years. When an order of male responsibility and protection is replaced by an egalitarian order, male domination tends to be the pattern that emerges.

      • The problem with his theory is that it is almost impossible to prove.

        1. Let’s us be charitable and assume that both comp and egalitarian positions can be seen within a biblical framework.

        2. Let’s assume that every generation says that ‘today’ is not as good as it used to be.

        3. Let’s then acknowledge that in an egalitarian people are more likely to say what they truly think (esp women)

        This means that you can never know whether abuse happens more now than it use to. Why because in an environment where women are subservient to men they are less likely to speak out.

        Now back to the matter in hand.

        Whether you are comp or egalitarian words like conquer set the seen for men to see women in the wrong light.

        Your blog should have said this without belittling RHE as emotional.

        She stood up against dangerous words. She was right.

        You can’t have your cake and eat it.

        You need to be more careful.

      • Andrew says:


        I’m with Alan on this topic. He makes some really important points and critiques.

        If complementarianism is a form of patriarchy – here is what I say:

        Patriarchy has no place in the gospel. There is no place for it in the body of Christ. Will heaven look like patriarchy? I think not – so let’s into the future reality of God’s people, today. If you do think heaven will look like patriarchy, well then, we have very different ideas of who God is.

        Egalitarianism is to blame for mistreatment of women? Oh ok, so for thousands of years of human history where patriarchy is the norm, sexual violence has never been an issue? I think not. That’s an outlandish claim. One only needs to look at the OT to see that patriarchialism is the PROBLEM, not the solution.

    • But you are making the judgement that RHE is emotionally reactive
      I disagree. She makes several valid points.
      Stop saying she can’t have a voice and answer the points.

      • Alan, I have engaged with her points. Believe me, if anyone has engaged, I have. The response has been virtually non-existent. I will also be dealing with her points more directly in future posts.

      • I don’t find your response satisfying.

        You have a stab at the issue whilst insisting on dismissing her voice.

        Just like you did with Doug’s response.
        You say that you don’t really agree with his tone and they say but this tactic is perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances.

        Say it straight. Doug was wrong. Stop trying to defend the indefensible.

  30. Flora Poste says:

    “When someone who should have the brains and character to know and act better baldly asserts that Pastor Wilson hates women, without presenting any sort of reasonable evidence or argument for this claim, for instance, dismissive ridicule might well be the most appropriate response.”

    Who has done this?

      • But you were criticising RHE so why put up a blog by someone else.
        You need to try harder

      • I wasn’t actually referring to RHE in that statement (take a look again). I was making a general observation.

      • I’m not letting you have that one. Your whole point was about how Doug has used ridicule on Rachel.

        How did she deserve it such behaviour.

      • Alan, I have no intention of defending a meaning that I didn’t intend.

        And the question of Pastor Wilson’s use of ridicule in response to RHE will be dealt with in a later post.

      • You conveniently say I am dealing in a later post as of that is the end of it.

        You made these statements above.

        You dismissed my sister Rachels voice by saying she was shrill and emotional.

        You gave a free pass to Dougs behaviour.

        It isn’t acceptable.

      • Alan, you are perfectly entitled to your opinion. I am entitled to think that you are quite mistaken. I have no intention of dodging anything here, but don’t see any point in writing the entirety of follow-up posts in the form of comments beneath this one. I hope that you can understand my reasoning for this and be patient until those posts have been written. Your contribution and response will be very welcome at that point.

        I didn’t give a free pass to Pastor Wilson’s behaviour. I fear that you are not reading me very carefully here. Besides, I challenged him on his tone in the comments of his post. Hardly a free pass. My point here was merely that Pastor Wilson’s rhetorical approach is a perfectly acceptable and appropriate means of response in many instances, while emotionally reactive (as opposed to emotionally informed) debate is not.

        Rachel was the one who introduced the word ‘shrill’ to the conversation, in a manner that appeared to me to be using the claim of offensive stereotype to avoid more direct engagement. As she introduced the term, I took a ‘if the boot fits’ approach and ran with it.

        It is late: let’s leave this here for now. I appreciate your challenging engagement, Alan. Thank you. Hopefully my follow-up posts will make my position clearer. Goodnight and God bless you and yours.

      • I feel strongly about this and will be reading your next post.

        I am disappointed that you continue to dismiss emotion in the way that you do.

        Talk later.


  31. Luke says:

    Please keep up the writing. As ever, your careful thoughts on these things are a great help and encouragement. I’ve read this post and ~95% of the comments. I feel like your commentors aren’t as appreciative of your conscientious efforts as they ought to be. I pray that you continue to find grace, strength and insight as you prepare your following posts. Keep on and be heartened.

  32. Beth says:


    Very much looking forward to your next posts. I’ve read every single comment on this one, and can only appreciate your patience! Of all of the voices chiming in on this debate, I find yours to be the most reasoned and balanced. I know exactly what you mean about reactive emotion being problematic in debate. I have never experience any sort of abuse, but this issue has been a life-long burden to me and until just a few years ago I deliberately avoided any discussion of the topic, because I knew that my emotional stake in the argument was too present to allow me to voice my objections and concerns in a way that would garner respect from those I was debating or disagreeing with. Great emotional attachment (as opposed to emotional investment, perhaps?) puts one at a disadvantage when debating with someone who is not attached to the topic in quite the same way. Although I have gained some detachment with greater maturity, I am delighted to find someone like yourself who obviously has spent time studying the topic and has a great deal of intellectual and spiritual investment without the emotional weight that I have. It is obvious from your reserve and sensitivity in responding to the above comments, as well as your measured, well-thought out responses on other forums that while you understand emotion as a valid response to words or ideas you do recognize that truth-seeking debate is not helped when it becomes a forum for reactive emotional exchanges.

    Thank you for weighing in on this topic. I tend not to comment much in such forums, but I may do so from time to time. At any rate, I will be following your blog closely.

    Thanks again. God bless.

  33. Pingback: On Triggering and the Triggered, Part 2 | Alastair's Adversaria

  34. I have just posted a follow-up post here.

  35. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    I did not read all the comments, and I certainly did not get involved in the whole fracas, but here is one observation:

    Did St Paul not quite explicitly declare that the marriage bed is egalitarian territory? That the man has no authority over his body, but is under authority of the woman, and vice versa? How come Wilson, both in rhetoric and in logical construction, completely ignore that??

    • Thanks for the comment, Klasie.

      Three points:

      1. The marriage bed is not ‘egalitarian’ in the sense that Pastor Wilson is using the word. It needs to be recognized that he is not referring to egalitarianism as a Christian position distinct from complementarianism, but to egalitarianism as it operates within the wider sexual culture, in a manner that downplays the dimorphism and distinct order and directionality of marital relations.

      2. Pastor Wilson’s formulation in this instance is seemingly imbalanced, and I believe that it is worth asking why, as I did in my questions addressed to him in my post above.

      3. Pastor Wilson definitely doesn’t ignore the authority of the woman over the man’s body, though. This article became part of the Fidelity book, and so would provide an immediate constraint on the sense in which his statements in the controversial passage could be taken. It deals with mutual authority quite explicitly.

  36. terriergal says:

    Sorry for the long quote but I wanted it in context:

    “One of the most impressive things that I have witnessed in this entire debate has been the strength, spirit, humour, confidence, independence, and agency of Pastor Wilson’s daughters, especially when witnessed against the embarrassing foil of the (frequently calculated) wilting weakness, passive aggression, and overwrought emotion that is widely on display from Rachel Held Evans and her cohorts (about which more later). The proof of this pudding may well be in the eating: I for one know which characteristics and virtues I would most value and admire in a wife or daughter. All I would ask is for Pastor Wilson to tell us more about how he values such virtues, and how strong male fathers and leaders can empower, cultivate, and support their expression, rather than stifling or undermining them.”

    One good way not to stifle or undermine women developing virtues just might be to not mock them when you think they are overreacting or overly emotional. I’m not sure how it works for you to tell someone (male or female) they’re overreacting, even when they are overreacting. But in my experience it doesn’t foster understanding.

    • terriergal says:

      Especially considering your sentiment further down:
      “Sometimes people flail out in anger and say things as a kneejerk and unconsidered reaction, expressing hurtful sentiments that they do not truly and deeply hold, simply because in their anger they wish to cause the other person pain.” You seem unwilling to apply this to the ‘overly emotional’ reacting to this — while this is clearly the crowd to whom it must apply. Certainly Evans has some messed up positions (I am not that familiar with her) but it isn’t just theological liberals who are upset with J Wilson and D Wilson. D Wilson wrote a very good review of Twilight which I recommend to others sometimes. But his attitude toward real people expressing anguish or hurt seems very lacking.

      Wilson’s previous demonstration of his flippant attitude toward people expressing upset about other issues (i.e. John Piper/Rick Warren for example, referring to the upset people as the ‘bottom of the monkey cage’ at which all kinds of other prominent apologists chuckled and chortled) tells me enough about his general level of compassion toward those in distress, and the level of human compassion toward the same in those who thought his statement humorous.

      Wilson has lots of time and blog space to express his regret. If someone has a good example of him doing it, please enlighten me.

    • Thanks for bringing this up, terriergal. It is an important question.

      Reading back through my post a couple of hours after posting it, I instantly regretted including that statement, not because I don’t believe that it is true, but because it wasn’t the most helpful way of expressing my point, could be distracting from the main thrust of my argument, might alienate a number of readers very early on, and might suggest that I didn’t believe that the concerns raised by many of the women on RHE’s blog were worthy of attention (they are). Even when you believe that something is true, there is often a particular way that you should say it if the people that you are saying it of are around. This was not something that I should have said in the way that I did in this particular context. I decided against removing it, because many people had read the piece already, and I don’t like changing anything beyond spelling at that point.

      When it comes to genuine debate, there is a need to control our emotions and this control generally develops through the way that our opponents or instructors bring our weaknesses to light in an unpleasant way. I have found that one of the best spurs to developing such a control has been the frustration with myself, my opponent, and the situation when emotions have gotten the better of my argument and my opponent has pressed the point at me. Learning any skill is frustrating, and agonistic skills can be even more so, as our weaknesses are continually and pointedly brought to our attention by our opponent/instructor. It is like fencing with someone who constantly lands hits, but whom we can’t touch. The taunts of such a person are maddeningly frustrating, but they are the things that force us to raise our game (although they can crush us if we don’t feel capable of developing the strength to rise to them). You develop strength by being less accommodating to unnecessary weakness. I am more likely to feel offended when I feel that people are trying to go easy on me: for me this is the greatest insult of all.

      But, yes, for people who are not adept at debate and disputation, and are unlikely ever to be, pointing out such weaknesses is unlikely to get you anywhere and makes things a lot worse. Also, although in the long term it develops strength, in the immediate context it usually doesn’t persuade anyone, but moves them away from you. I suspect that it also only really works for people who have a good sense of the strengths and skills that debate demands. Unless your opponent knows that you are supposed to be in control of your feelings in debate, they won’t begin to even try and won’t rise to your challenge to do so.

      My point was that Pastor Wilson’s daughters exhibited these strengths, strengths that I greatly admire, abilities that exhibit a backbone and considerable ego-strength that are generally not associated with ‘submissive’ women. It is difficult to become the master of your feelings. Those who can’t master their feelings and reactions in the same way should not be ignored or not engaged with. However, they can’t be engaged with in the same way. One needs to affirm, reassure, constantly qualify, employ weaker terms, less aggressive rhetorical styles, avoid any confrontational framing, draw out carefully through questioning, not make sudden movements, ensure that they don’t feel threatened, don’t press points home too sharply, etc.

      Although this can facilitate a measure of communication where it is necessary, you don’t develop strengths this way. The best way to stifle strength is constantly to tolerate or accommodate supposed weakness. Frankly, although I believe that there are many persons – male and female – who can’t handle it, the notion that one should generally speak to women in a manner that tiptoes around their emotions smacks to me of the soft prejudice of low expectations, the sexist prejudice that women are necessarily emotional and men are rational, and is one of the things that will most prevent women from developing these strengths. Most of the women that I know who have these strengths had someone in their life – as often as not, their father – who wasn’t prepared to accept that they were not capable of mastering their emotions and becoming formidable debaters. Of course, one should only pointedly bring weakness to light when you believe that it is unnecessary weakness, an obstacle to the development of a strength.

      My position on these matters will become clearer as this series develops. I will discuss the difference between forms of discourse, the skills that qualify us to participate in each, and the manner in which they function. The form of discourse that was being engaged in on RHE’s blog was not debate, nor was it open to it, nor capable of it. Pastor Wilson, his daughters, and Jared were all using debating, disputational, or confrontational styles to address positions that weren’t responsive to such a form of discourse. They failed to see that they weren’t really engaging with substantive truth claims – although the claims took such a form – but with emotive expressions, which require a very different sort of engagement and sensitivity that was quite lacking in their response. It was as though the parties were speaking different languages. In a very important respect, they were. Again, more about this later.

      Within the post that follows this, I tackle the issue of Pastor Wilson’s insensitive approaches in some depth. I should stress again that I am not claiming that Pastor Wilson was in the right here at all, but merely trying to protect him against unfair criticism, while challenging him where I believe that he should be challenged. His insensitivity and failure to apologize are two of these areas.

      • Andrew says:

        A question: for what do you think Doug Wilson should apologize? Being insensitive is one thing he has been recently, but that is not REALLY the issue that people who disagree with him have.

      • Andrew, I think that he should apologize for failure to be sufficiently sensitive to some of the vulnerable people that he hurt with the way that he addressed their concerns, for the indiscriminately dismissive tone of his responses, and for his failure to apologize sooner. I think that he should express regret and take responsibility for his infelicitous wording of his sentiments and for the fact that his decontextualized statements reached a wider and more general audience than he intended in a manner that would be likely to cause offence. However, I don’t think that he should respond to the claims that he or his words are misogynistic with an apology, because these claims simply do not stand up to close examination.

      • Andrew says:

        Fair enough. What would “misogyny” look like, then? Honestly having trouble seeing how one could actually think worse of women, in the context of modern Christian culture, than Doug Wilson seems to.

        ” ‘Sex is something done to her’ instead of ‘something done with her’ “- Doug Wilson


        “the husband is finding that he has less and less of an object to be masculine toward” – Capon, quoted without comment by Doug Wilson on his blog, so I take that as he agrees with it.

        If this isn’t misogyny, than what is? Not a rhetorical question – I’m actually curious how you would define misogyny, as this seems to be a sticking point.

      • I think this part of the problem Alistair.

        For you this is about principle and debating style.

        For me it is just about principle.

        I find both the views that DW portrays, and the ones that you say you support (even if you wish you hadn’t written them) to be offensive and not in keeping with the life, work, and teaching of Christ.

        I don’t really care who is better at making an argument. I care that women are treated as subjects.

        I don’t care that DW daughters have a backbone and love their dad. I care that someone should defend the idea of ‘conquering’ women; if if they think that better words should be found.

        I say again that oppressive leaders always deny the voice of their subjects by suggesting their words are somehow tainted by emotion or bias.

        DW has done it in a distasteful way and you have done it in a friendly/debating way.

        But you have both done it. It just is not acceptable.

      • Andrew,

        You raise an important question. Let me be clear, if Pastor Wilson really believed what those opposing him in this argument generally presume that he must believe, he definitely would be a misogynist. If his words had the sense that they believe that they must have, they would be misogynist, and he would either be a misogynist or severely mistaken concerning that meaning in defending them.

        For our purposes here, I will define misogyny as a position that fits in one or more of the following categories: a) is grounded upon hatred of women or establishes a fundamental negative opposition between men and women; b) denies the equal value in difference of men and women to God and our duty to reflect this equal value in the way that we live in human society; c) establishes or defends a society in which men dominate, oppress, or suppress women. Other forms might include positions that, d) deny women’s independent agency; e) deny women their own subjectivity. If Pastor Wilson’s position fell foul on one or more of these fronts, and it were clear to me that it were a consistently held conviction, rather than a misstep that he would immediate take back if it became clear to him, I would argue that he was a misogynist.

        I explained the sense of the ‘sex is something done to her’ statement above. It really shouldn’t be that hard to understand. It isn’t a statement that is supposed to stand alone, but is a hyperbolic articulation of a fact that really is fairly clear when one thinks about it. The problem is that people seem to presume that Pastor Wilson takes such a statement as the only and final word on the nature of agency relative to sexual relations. He doesn’t. Rather than given us some heavily qualified statement, in which the true character of sexual relations in all of its aspects is encapsulated, Pastor Wilson has given us a bold articulation of a single facet of them, a statement that must be held in tension with and counterbalanced by our statements. Sometimes I wonder whether the problem here is that people seem to have lost the art of thinking dialectically.

        You may find the word ‘object’ offensive because it triggers concepts of objectification and the like. However, none of this needs to be read as a denial of the woman’s own subjectivity. I don’t deny your subjectivity by pointing out that, insofar as I am writing this to you, you are the ‘indirect object’ of my writing, do I? You seem to take all of these statements in their worst possible (and often in a far less obvious) sense.

      • Alan,

        If we cannot follow a proper form of debate, we will never arrive at the truth. While the voices of sensitive persons must be attended to, if debate becomes ordered around sensitivities, we will get nowhere in determining the truth or falsehood of the claims that have been made.

        If we are to determine what exactly Pastor Wilson intended by the notion of ‘conquering’, and the actual meaning of his statement, people who are triggered by that statement are the least likely to be able to help us, as the emotion reaction short circuits and overwhelms the interpretative process that is required. I have stressed that writers should be aware of and sensitive to how such expressions will be heard, but the way that such things are heard is often a very poor indication of their actual meaning.

        In short, while we need to attend to the concerns and sensitivities of triggered persons, we need to keep them away from interpretative discourse and debate, as they will be hurt, will unnecessarily heat up the conversation, will distract and mislead other interpreters, introduce all sorts of confusion to the conversation, and generally destroy hope of arriving at satisfactory answers and insights into meaning and intention.

      • Andrew says:


        So would you agree with the statements “sex is something done to him” and “a man is an object for a female to be feminine towards”? Would Doug Wilson? This would offer men and women equal agency and equality, however equally confusing as Doug Wilson’s statements they are. The thing is, I still don’t agree with your or Doug Wilson’s explanations, and I think I am understanding them correctly. It’s Doug Wilson that is using inflammatory language to supposedly describe something that you and him claim is not so inflammatory, but neither you or him has done a satisfactory job of explaining how they are NOT inflammatory. You can’t explain away everything by context. I’m with Alan here – I still think that what you are articulating is a lower view of women in personhood, and it’s Doug Wilson’s responsibility to find better words to use if that’s not what he means. He hasn’t.

        And another thing – if “triggered” people are having a hard time hearing what you are saying, it’s possible that it’s not the way you are conveying your argument, it’s the nature of the argument itself. Guess what: the women objecting to what Doug Wilson has said are doing so with emotion, but with conviction: these are STRONG, INTELLIGENT women who don’t need to be babied by saying, “oh, they can’t handle these big important thoughts that we men can handle”.

        I’m going to be done commenting now, because you seem unwilling to admit that Doug Wilson’s words and arguments could be misogynist. I understand that you want to be fair and balanced and you certainly have done a good job of being cool-headed in your arguments and not resulting to personal insults.

        I’ll leave with this: do you believe that the new heaven and new earth will be ordered in hierarchical way, with men still having authority over women? If yes, then I’m sorry to say that that is a pretty dismal view of heaven, and one that I’m not sure I would want to be apart of – where curses from the fall are somehow turned into “God’s way”. But if you think, no, men and women will be equal, I say this: Jesus has already inaugurated his kingdom! The kingdom of God is present here and now, and we are already living at the intersection of the world and the kingdom of God. What better way is there to LIVE out that Kingdom-presentness than by ordering our relationships in a counter-world way, going against thousands of years of patriarchy since the fall, and looking forward to his future coming in that way?


      • Andrew puts it well here. You are sat in the middle of a parenthesis of the garden and the city and think that the reference points related to the fall are the highest standard and therefore the goal for humanity.

        In Christ I see a liberator of men and women.

        By for now.


      • Alan,

        Thanks for the comment. I really don’t start from the Fall. My focus is on the prelapsarian and the eschatological orders as determinative for my thinking on such matters. You seem to be making some unwarranted presumptions. Where did I deny that Christ comes as a liberator for both men and women?

      • Andrew,

        If you read my comments above, it should be clear that there is an asymmetry in the natural character of sexual relations. While the woman has full agency, her agency in the action is of a different character to that of the man, which is one reason why, in situations of ambiguous consent, we hold the man particularly responsible for having initiated the sexual relation, and it is the woman’s consent that is particularly sought. The woman’s agency is primarily receptive. So, no, sex is not something done to the man in the same way as it is something done to the woman. Of course, this doesn’t mean that women can’t initiate sexual intercourse in any way or that they aren’t active towards men within it.

        The statement ‘a man is an object for a female to be feminine towards’ is one that I am sure that Pastor Wilson would affirm. With appropriate qualifications (e.g. men are not the only object towards which femininity is expressed), I would affirm it too.

        You seem to be working with a rather tendentious and unrealistic notion of ‘equal agency’ and ‘equality’, one that would efface the asymmetries characteristic of or resulting from sexual dimorphism (do men and women also exhibit symmetrical agency in the process of bringing a child into the world?). It is also far from immediately obvious that, in speaking about the asymmetries characteristic of the actions most revelatory of the nature and ends of our physical sexual dimorphism, such judgments should be deemed entirely expressive of broader characterizations of differences in personhood.

        Yes, it is definitely possible that an argument deemed triggering is triggering because it actually is misogynistic. However, whether or not this is the case must be established by interpretation, and strongly triggered individuals are the least qualified to engage in this process of interpretation. Rather, what is needed are individuals who are aware of the sensitivities of the triggered individuals engaging with the argument through close, careful, and non-reactive interpretation, arriving at a conclusion in such a fashion. Until such interpretation has occurred, it is premature to deem the argument misogynistic.

        I wonder whether you could tell me how you believe that these particular statements of Pastor Wilson fit into the broader framework of his understanding of sexual and gender relations, expressed within this book and elsewhere. If the offensive statements in question did not exist, how would you go about making your case with reference solely to the broader framework that Pastor Wilson adopts? Bracketing this small clump of trees for the time being, what does the forest look like?

        There are plenty of women who can ably engage in critical conversation on these matters and plenty of men who can’t. This really isn’t a male vs. female matter. In fact, I am hoping to post some non-reactive critical engagement with Pastor Wilson’s position, written by a female friend, at some point over the next few days: from what I have seen of it so far, it is a perfect example of the sort of careful interpretation and challenging interaction that is required here. This said, I do not believe that many of the women (and men) on RHE’s blog and elsewhere showed themselves capable of such deep engagement.

        Constantly asserting how ‘STRONG’ and ‘INTELLIGENT’ these women are is unhelpful, not least because it sounds like over-compensation – especially when shouted in capital letters – and leaves the opposite impression of that intended (the genuinely strong and intelligent women that I know are obviously so and so it never needs to be said of or by them). The fact that, if this is truly the case, I am having this conversation with men playing the role of white knights, rather than with the women themselves, also strikes me as a little ironic.

        I do not deny that many of these women (and the men) are extremely intelligent. However, I do not believe that they are particularly skilled or well-trained in engaging with viewpoints that they instinctively perceive to be threatening. I would love to be proved wrong on this front, though. However, their strength and intelligence as interlocutors is something that they will have to demonstrate or fail to demonstrate through careful and close interpretative engagement and rigorous debate.

        While emotion and conviction can play an important role in debate and reasoning, they are not the sine quibus non that fact and argumentation are. It is on the latter fronts that the claims brought forward so far have been found wanting. This does not mean that these viewpoints should be dismissed. Not at all! However, other people should be found to debate them.

        I certainly grant that Pastor Wilson’s words could be construed as misogynistic. However, my contention is that closer examination will reveal such construals to be uncharitable at the very best, but, more generally, to be serious misconstruals of what a more careful and expansive reading would lead us to believe.

        In the way that you seem to be understanding hierarchy and ‘authority over’, no, I do not believe that the new heaven and the new earth will be ordered in such a manner, nor should the present world, for that matter. The order of men ‘ruling over’ women is a product of the Fall (Genesis 3:16), and something that we should be removing. This form of dominating ‘patriarchy’ is utterly opposed to God’s purpose for his world. I think that part of our problem here is that words such as ‘authority’, ‘patriarchy’, etc. are being employed and read by Pastor Wilson’s critics as scare-words, admitting no nuance or differentiation. The prelapsarian order is one in which there remains a grammar of gender relations, where men have a particular relation to authority that differs from that of women. I would be more than happy to send you some more extensive treatments of this by me, should you desire them.

        Thanks for your comments and engagement to this point, Andrew. God bless you.

      • Andrew says:

        “So, no, sex is not something done to the man in the same way as it is something done to the woman.”

        Well, that settles it. I understand that you believe women have full agency, but you can’t make that comment AND suggest that women’s agency is equal (albiet different) in terms of sexuality. I am in no way suggesting men and women are the same sexually – that would be silly. But saying women’s agency is “of a different character” is just an attempt at a polite way of saying “women’s agency is less than man”. This is another sticking point – you and Doug Wilson seem to reduce the offense of what you believe by dressing it up in less offensive words – but the issues still remain. If, as you say, “sex is not something done to the man in the same way as it is something done to the woman”, I do not think it is out of the bounds of what constitutes “misogyny”.

        “I think that part of our problem here is that words such as ‘authority’, ‘patriarchy’, etc. are being employed and read by Pastor Wilson’s critics as scare-words, admitting no nuance or differentiation. ”

        If you don’t think patriarchy has any place in the new heavens and the new earth, than it has no place for us in the Church now. Yes, there may be men that order their lives and families in such a way and live in good and loving ways, as I am sure you do. But that skirts the issue that patriarchy, whatever form, is more predisposed to the mistreatment of women. I’ve seen this happen very close to me sadly. I can say the opposite for relationships that have been Christianly egalitarian – women’s voices are valued and heard equally.

        And that is what this really comes down to – women’s voices being heard equally in the Church. They aren’t, and its wrong. This is not solely a feminist issue or a women’s issue – its a Church issue. I am not commenting here looking to be a “white knight” as you insinuate, but rather speaking against what I see is something wrong going on in the Church: your continued (and Doug Wilson, to a much fuller degree) to discredit the voices of women in the Church as “shrill” or “emotional”, tactics that coming from a man who professes to be a Christian are extremely disappointing. Because I have seen the pain and heartache of women whom I love dearly caused by spiritual abuse by the church in people in it, and I couldn’t make a stand then – so you can bet that I am going to do it now. I used caps to acknowledge the strength and intelligence of these women who you have so easily dismissed from your place of prominence as a white male to make a point – that their voices will be heard (even if you don’t want to hear it). Maybe caps aren’t the best way to say this, but there it is nonetheless.

      • Andrew, thanks for the comment.

        Perhaps it would be better if you argued your point, rather than just asserting it at this point. Why must the claim that the character of the agency of men and women relative to the sexual act differs entail that the agency of one is lesser than the other? Must all be symmetrical, uniform, and commensurable in order to be equal in value? Is there no possibility of asymmetric yet counterbalancing agencies? Must equality in value of agency translate into the equal priority of each party’s agency in each particular activity or realm? Could it be that, given sexual dimorphism and the particular nature of the marital act, male and female agencies, while of equal value, are postured differently in relation to it?

        Could it be that in saying that women’s agency relative to the marital act is ‘of a different character’, I am not saying that ‘women’s agency is less than man’s’, but simply that it is qualitatively different and hence incommensurable, yet no less important in the larger scheme of things? If I say that apples and oranges have a ‘different character’ am I necessarily saying that one must be lesser than the other?

        Andrew, I fear that you are fighting with shadows here: I don’t see my actual positions being addressed in any of your comments. You make a universal statement about patriarchy: I would be interested to know on what basis you see fit to rule out the possibility of an exception. I would also be interested to hear you tell me what you believe my understanding of patriarchy is. Perhaps once you have assured me that you understand what you claim to be attacking, we might be able to make some progress here.

        I have been around a bit, and I have seen my share of vocal Christian egalitarians who treated women in general and/or their wives in particular very poorly. In more than a few cases this mistreatment was related to a sort of celebration of equality that smothered or failed to attend to differences. You might protest that these individuals were not true egalitarians, but two can play at the ‘no true Scotsman’ game. The problem is that, in actual practice, there are some very abusive people – both male and female – in both camps. The notion that no true egalitarian could be abusive of the opposite sex not only doesn’t fit the facts, but can also function to encourage blindness to the abuse that does occur. Supposedly noble belief can also be an alibi for action. Having known vocal egalitarians or Christian feminists who employed their egalitarianism or feminism as a sort of self-absolution for their poor treatment of women, I am all too aware of the dangers of such theories in the hands of sinful human beings.

        The problem is that empirical research to support the claim that men from soft patriarchal Christian settings are more abusive than their Christian egalitarian counterparts is not forthcoming. In fact, research would seem to suggest that active conservative Protestant men – those most likely to be soft patriarchalists – are the least abusive of all male groups. Rather than just asserting that all forms of patriarchy are more predisposed to the mistreatment of women, why not produce some evidence to demonstrate the claim in the particular case of soft patriarchy over egalitarianism? Also, using patriarchy in an undifferentiated sense fails to distinguish between the radically different forms of patriarchy where ‘authority’ is perceived as ‘authority for service’, rather than as ‘authority to rule over’.

        Research also consistently challenges those who would attribute the abuse of women primarily to the factor of patriarchy. Also, while distorted views of patriarchy may be appealed to as rationalizations for abuse, this no more makes patriarchy the cause of such abuse than egalitarianism is the cause in cases where egalitarians appeal to the supposed non-misogyny inherent in their egalitarianism to let them off the hook for their actual mistreatment of women.

        I have argued strongly for the equal valuing and hearing of women’s voices in the Church, so it feels odd to have to address such an accusation here. I fear that you are engaging with your mental perception of what non-egalitarian viewpoints must hold, rather than with what particular alternative positions actually hold.

        Andrew, I nowhere tried ‘to discredit the voices of women in the Church as “shrill” or “emotional”.’ Let’s just get that clear at the start. What I did do was argue that RHE’s contribution to the discussion was emotionally reactive and unhelpful. This was directed at one individual in particular, an individual who set the tone for many other people’s reactions. I would and have said the same thing to men in the past. I wasn’t making a general statement about women, just about RHE’s particular response to Pastor Wilson’s statements. It was RHE who introduced the word ‘shrill’ to the discussion and treated my challenge to her in particular as a gendered attack, which it really wasn’t. Rather than properly addressing the issues that I raised, she was the one who resorted taking refuge behind a generalized gendered conception of interactions on such matters. Of course, by this ploy, the possibility that some women might actually be emotionally overreacting is rendered immune to criticism from the outset. Rather than prove me wrong, she adopted a ‘you can’t say that!’ approach. This is no less an attempt to dismiss and avoid engaging with a critical voice than are deployments of the sexist stereotype that women are emotional and incapable of proper reason.

        I would also add that the use of the ‘men say that women are “shrill” and “emotional” to dismiss their voices’ stereotype, along with idea that one ought to give special treatment to female sensitivities in public debate, a treatment not accorded to male sensitivities, actually tends to produce the very reality that it strives to deny: a higher level of emotional reactivity among women. The first of these, by undermining the right of people to challenge women for being emotional reactive, gives emotional reactivity for women a free pass that male emotional reactivity does not enjoy, making it more likely that those who are emotionally reactive will continue to be. The second, by giving female sensitivities special protection in debate, damns women with the soft prejudice of low expectations. It also, in conjunction with the first, allows women to appeal to their sensitivities as a ploy in debate, a ploy to which opponents are forbidden response, as one can’t dismiss unreasoned female sensitivities in debate in the way that one can dismiss unreasoned male ones. The existence of this ploy actually encourages women to become more emotional not less, as appealing to offence and sensitivity gives such an upper hand in debate. This produces the sort of ‘wilting weakness’ and ‘overwrought emotion’ that I mentioned in my post. Such a environment coddles weaknesses and stifles strengths. What I particularly admired about Pastor Wilson’s daughters is that they didn’t play the ‘sensitivity cards’ at all, but took on opponents directly, acting in terms of the conviction that women can be just as capable of tough argumentative sparring as men are and have no need for special appeal to sensitivities to make a compelling and forceful case or defence for their position, or challenge or attack of others.

        I also believe that the preponderance of responses in the comments of and sparked by RHE’s blog post exhibited much the same emotional reactivity, many male responses among them. However, RHE’s was the important voice here, as she set the tone for that which followed. While such voices should be attended to, I believe that, before they are admitted to the form of discourse characteristic of debate, they must first demonstrate that they are capable of it. This applies indiscriminately, both to males and to females. If they cannot prove themselves capable of such discourse, they must stick to other forms (debate isn’t the only form of discourse in the Church), and other parties must represent their interests in debate.

  37. Andrew says:


    I’m sorry if I erroneously attributed the shrill quote to you. My mistake.

    To be honest, I have been waiting for you to articulate more clearly exactly what you think, but it seems to me that you have continued to defend Doug Wilson – so I was working with the assumption that his perspective was your take as well. I certainly don’t think all non-egalitarians are the same – I have many friends that are nominal soft-complementarians (or by choice) and have great marriages – but I think what Doug Wilson is preaching is decidedly not a soft-complementarian position, but a hard-patriarchial position. I’m sure there is a spectrum of where people stand, and I don’t mean to bunch all of complementarians in the same boat. When addressing Doug Wilson’s perspective I’ve been using “patriarchalism” to denote his very strong patriarchal stances. I will say this though – patriarchalism (and in some senses complementarianism) has in its nature the potential for men to say along the lines of what has been said to RHE (“the men in your life need to exercise their authority over you and silence you) with the God-given stamp of complementarian approval, which is inherently not present in Christian egalitarianism. That is more the point I was trying to make.

    At this point I think we’re still talking past eachother and I’m not sure if its really helpful or productive. So I’m going to be done commenting now, but thanks for being prompt in your responses and given space to have a discussion.

    • I have defended Pastor Wilson because his is the position that has been attacked most strongly in the comments here and elsewhere, and his viewpoint merits fair advocacy, even though it is not my own for various reasons. I believe that he has been seriously misrepresented and unfairly attacked at several points. This doesn’t mean that I believe that he is right in his approach, whether theoretically or rhetorically, just that we need to be more charitable and accurate in our judgments of him. Greater accuracy will produce a far more effective and pointed critique and interaction with his viewpoint. Later posts will give a better idea of the sort of critical interaction that I have in mind. Thanks for the engagement to this point, Andrew. God bless!

  38. Pingback: On Triggering and the Triggered, Part 3 | Alastair's Adversaria

  39. Just posted part 4 here. It’s a (very, very) long one!

  40. AndrewF says:

    I’m so impressed with your responses here, Alistar!

    Just a thought on the idea that patriarch has no place in heaven and thus the church – if God is our Father, to whom we submit, is that a form of patriarchy that will exist in heaven / the new creation?

    • Andrew says:

      Oh boy, you really went there…

      • AndrewF says:

        Well… is it? I think the question is valid. Not saying it does, necessarily, but it would appear to on the surface. In fact, I think your pithy comment shows the one of the points that Alistair made, which I think you ignored, which is that you seem to have a particular construct in mind, a particular idea of what patriarchy is that does not necessarily reflect a wider understanding. So my question was an attempt to get you to put that bias aside.
        If submitting to God the Father (I’ll assume you agree that we do) is not a kind of patriarchy, why not?

      • AndrewF says:

        One might also challenge the idea that what doesn’t exist in the new creation ought not exist in the church… bye bye marriage! To be very clear, that is not an argument for anything, but rather just questioning a particular framework you put out there. I think that framework needs to consider the now/not yet distinctions.

    • Thanks, Andrew.

      I am very cautious about using the language of ‘patriarchy’. It is ripe for misunderstanding (wilful or otherwise) and uncharitable reading.

      I am also wary of speculating beyond the clear teaching of Scripture on what the new heavens and the new earth has in store in such regards. As it is the world of resurrection, there will be continuity with the created order. However, there is also a radical newness, and an apocalyptic break with all that precedes. It is an order that arises from a fresh creative work of God and so the form that it takes will be surprising and unpredictable. Like the resurrected Jesus it will be recognizable, but it will also be quite different and unfamiliar and will utterly burst the old wineskins of our present categories of reality. Like the final movement of an unheard symphony by a great composer, we know that it will be related to what preceded, and serve as its culmination. However, there is no way that we can predict on the basis of what we have already heard exactly what form it will take, just that it will be perfectly satisfying.

      The created order of gender relations in Genesis 1-2 will be present in some very clear form, rescued from the cursed form that it later took, but also in a form quite unlike that to which we are accustomed. At the very least we know that it will be expressed in the relationship between Christ and the Church. We know that, as the earth has been filled and there is no more death, there will no longer be the need to reproduce and hence to marry (following Jesus’ – surprising – logic in his argument with the Sadducees). However, as the great composer of the worlds, God isn’t going to be forgetful of one of the most fundamental themes that he introduced at the beginning.

  41. Pingback: Dismantling the War Machine : Clever Dialectic

  42. Pingback: Ten Years of Blogging: 2011-2012 | Alastair's Adversaria

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  44. Pingback: The New Inquisitors | Panther Red

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