In a recent Desiring God podcast Q&A, John Piper outrageously said that egalitarianism is to blame for sexual abuse in the church.
As a leading complementarian voice in Evangelicalism (he co-founded the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), Piper has influenced millions of Christians to follow patriarchal hierarchy in the church and home, with men holding all authority and power, leaving women on the margins to submit and follow. Egalitarianism, by comparison, teaches that leadership roles and gifts are designated by the Holy Spirit without regard to gender, age, ethnicity, income, or any other qualifier. All persons are equal in the Kingdom of God, and in the home, egalitarians teach mutual submission between spouses.
Implying that sexual abuse is a new development in the past five decades with the rise of egalitarianism is absurd, as we can see that sexual abuse is a timeless result of sin.
I would recommend reading these three responses to Piper’s analysis. First, Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, Int., wrote, “Do Gender Roles Keep Women Safe? A Response to John Piper” —
It’s confusing that Piper, who has spent his life preaching the gospel, links human flourishing to male and female roles instead of intimacy with Christ. However, Scripture does not associate male/female roles with holiness/godliness. According to the New Testament, godliness is inseparable from our spiritual rebirth and flourishes through relationship with Christ.
The dividing line that separates spiritual death from human flourishing has nothing to do with gender roles and everything to do with spiritual rebirth through the Holy Spirit. It’s Christ in you—the hope of glory—that imparts holiness, as demonstrated by fruit of the Spirit (Col. 1:21-27, Gal. 5:16-25). Here is where complementarians make a catastrophic error.
By insisting that maleness qualifies men to lead and care for women, complementarians give men responsibilities that rightly belong only to those who have demonstrated a capacity for leadership. Maleness isnot morality. Maleness is not a character quality. Maleness can tell us nothing about a person’s intimacy with Christ, their character, or their commitment to holiness.
God intended humanity to flourish through male-female co-dominion, which sadly, does not endure. Adam’s sin and first failure was disobedience to God, not failure to protect and lead Eve. God did not tell Adam “protect and hold authority over Eve,” but “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat,” (Gen. 2:17). When they disobey God, their shared rule deteriorates into the “he will rule over you” of Genesis 3:16. Male rule, authority, and dominance is a consequence of sin. It is a distortion of God’s ideal for humanity. It wrecks the thriving that God intended.
According to Prepare/Enrich—the largest group studying marriage in the world—domestic violence and abuse are statistically linked with dominance. Theories that advance dominance can only fuel abuse. For this reason, humanitarian organizations “marble” gender equality into their goals for successful impact. Gender equality neutralizes the power imbalances that allow for abuse, which explains why adding women as middle managers and on boards lowers the rate of unethical practices.
Let’s turn our attention to the church. According to Kathryn A. Flynn, clergy-perpetuated sexual abuse (CPSA) is “not an issue of sexuality but rather one of a power imbalance that negates any possibility of ‘consensual’ mutuality. This distorted power dynamic has been accentuated by some clergy abusers through the misuse of significant social, cultural and even supernatural power ascribed to religious representatives as being derived from God.” Further, the World Health Organization found that “traditional gender and social norms [are] related to male superiority.”
The Sinnergists wrote, “No John Piper, Egalitarianism is not to Blame for Sexual Abuse” —
Egalitarianism, by its very definition, is the belief that all people are equal and that there is no inherent difference of power, authority, worth, or status between men and women.
Sexual abuse, by its very nature, is about the exertion and the assertion of power. As experts have long noted, sexual abuse is not about lust or desire or even sex; it is about power and it is about control.
Egalitarianism and sexual abuse therefore, by their very natures and definitions, are mutually exclusive. A person who is truly egalitarian would never sexually abuse another person, because a person would never sexually abuse another person whom he or she truly viewed as an equal. To state it another way, a person who sexually abuses another has, by their own actions, demonstrated that they are not actually egalitarian because, as stated above, true egalitarianism is inherently and fundamentally incompatible with sexual abuse.
And Rachel Held Evans’ post, “Patriarchy doesn’t “protect” women: A Response to John Piper” is a must read! —
The #MeToo movement does not reflect some sudden increase in the abuse of women; rather, it reflects a growing awareness of those abuses, and a mounting, collective fervor to confront them. It’s a movement led by and for women, women who aren’t asking for some sort of paternalistic “protection” because they are fragile females, but rather to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve simply because they are human beings.
But what’s most dangerous about this posture is that Piper seems to assume that because evangelicals aren’t confronting sexual assault and abuse the way that Hollywood is, then those things must not be happening in their churches, that abuse only occurs in egalitarian communities where women have more power and influence. I would posit that, based on the many stories I hear from women who have left evangelical churches, it’s far more likely that abuse is flourishing in patriarchal homes and churches where women are given little voice and little recourse; it’s just getting swept under the rug rather than named and confronted. After all, Piper has said in the past that a woman in an abusive relationship should “endure verbal abuse for a season” and “perhaps being smacked one night,” before seeking help—not from authorities, but from her (male-led) church. As we have seen in the unfolding story of Sovereign Grace Ministries, in highly patriarchal churches where women have no power and where abuse claims are typically handled “in house” by the men in leadership, abuse runs rampant.
That’s because contrary to Piper’s argument, patriarchy isn’t about protecting women; it’s about protecting men. It’s about preserving male rule over the home, church, and society, often at the expense of women.
In addition to mishandling his analysis of the #MeToo movement by blaming sexual assault on egalitarianism, Piper grossly mishandles Scripture in an attempt to proof-text his claims. For example, he points to the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis to suggest that an order of authority was established at creation wherein men are designed to lead and protect women, and women are designed to defer to and follow men. The Fall, as Christians sometimes like to call it, was the result of Adam’s failure to live into the masculine role of leading and protecting his wife. This is an…innovative….reading of the text for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Hebrew word used in Genesis 2 to describe Eve, (typically translated “helper”), is formed from the Hebrew word ezer. Far from connoting helplessness or subordination, the word ezer is employed elsewhere in Scripture to describe God, the consummate intervener—the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10:14), King David’s strong defender and deliverer (Psalm 70:5), Israel’s shield and helper (Deuteronomy 33:29). Ironically, in Genesis, the woman is literally the “strong protector” of the man!
Banning women from the pulpit and silencing their voices in the church doesn’t protect women; it harms them.
Instructing women to submit to their husbands by “enduring abuse” doesn’t protect women; it harms them.
Handling abuse and assault allegations “in house” by reporting them to the male elders of a church instead of to the police doesn’t protect women; it harms them.
Misusing Scripture to reinforce gender stereotypes based more on white, American, post-World War II cultural ideals than biblical truth doesn’t protect women; it harms them.
Calling for a return to patriarchy doesn’t protect women; it harms them.
I particularly appreciated C. Allen’s responses to Piper’s tweet (posted above):
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