Thursday 16 February 2012

John Piper is wrong about women

American pastor John Piper has come under criticism for saying that God gave Christianity a 'masculine feel'. Piper's assertions (which gender important virtues male, among other things) have been thoroughly refuted all over the blogosphere. In the slightly older video above, Piper discusses the question of domestic abuse (beginning with an ill-advised chuckle). He ends up suggesting that women should endure verbal abuse 'for a season' and endure 'being smacked' for one night, before taking the problem to the church.

These remarks are, of course, despicable. The fact that Piper seems to mean nothing by them makes it worse: his ignorance suggests that he lives in a subculture so male-centred that he is insulated from listening to women at all. Most of all, Piper seems to be totally unaware of the strong association between patriarchy and abuse. As Women's Aid put it:
Domestic violence against women by men is "caused"* by the misuse of power and control within a context of male privilege. Male privilege operates on an individual and societal level to maintain a situation of male dominance, where men have power over women and children. Perpetrators of domestic violence choose to behave abusively to get what they want and gain control. Their behaviour often originates from a sense of entitlement which is often supported by sexist, racist, homophobic and other discriminatory attitudes. In this way, domestic violence by men against women can be seen as a consequence of the inequalities between men and women, rooted in patriarchal traditions that encourage men to believe they are entitled to power and control over their partners.
Violence is typically the assertion of male control, not the loss of it in a fit of rage. Male rule - for which 'godly male leadership' is but a euphemism; it's difficult to imagine what besides rule Piper means by 'leadership' in concrete situations - sets the context in which women suffer violence. The belief that Christianity is chiefly masculine relegates women to second-class status, appendages of their husbands whom they are obliged to obey. This puts women into the impossible situation of choosing between their own safety and well-being (by seeking help, which may involve leaving their husband) and obedience to Christ.

Short of situations in which we are ordered to disown Jesus, that dilemma is false. We follow a Lord who was and is eternally human, who mourns with those who mourn, who will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick. Never forget that He began his ministry like this (Luke 4:16-21):
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
    "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
It's horrifying that End Violence Against Women, for example, need to advise visitors how to cover their tracks to prevent their abuser from finding out they're seeking help. So much for the 'Christian foundations' of 'western civilisation' supposedly under threat: Piper's assertion that 'the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel' is comprehensively refuted by two thousand years of church history.

Of course, as Piper says, the church can play a part in tackling abuse by running women's shelters or by excommunicating known abusers. But in its present form the church is ill-equipped for these tasks. It cannot honestly claim innocence from abuse until it abandons male rule. You cannot both deplore violence and argue for the continuing existence of contexts in which violence occurs: something has to give. Because white rule was the root cause of lynchings, the answer could not be a more benevolent form of white rule; it was and is the abolition of white rule itself. Isn't it time we said the same of patriarchy?

*The inverted commas signify the FAQ's insistence that it is ultimately the abuser who is responsible for violence, and that social context does not abolish responsibility.

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