The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what the Big Box is all about.
It’s been a while since we got to meet a new speaker in the Big Box, but today we’re going to break that streak with Jennie Chancey, co-author of Passionate Housewives Desperate for God (she is, as you probably guessed, the “Jennie B.” in the title of today’s post). The pilot is her father, Jeff Ethell (you can read about him here), and a good percentage of the lecture was about their relationship. However, I’m here not to review Jennie Chancey’s childhood, but the patriarchal doctrines she used her family story and personal history to promote. And boy oh boy are there some doozies this week.
Here comes the bride
It’s hardly a big secret in Christian circles that one of the main metaphors used to describe Jesus’ relationship with the church is that of the Bridegroom and the Bride (see Revelation 19:6-8 for just one example). Chancey, like many complementarians, leans heavily on this metaphor throughout Jennie B., but not in the way you might expect:
And a lot of times we think that the Gospel is just for pulpits and preachers, witnesses who go out in the streets, but that’s just the mouthpiece of the Gospel. The Gospel is told every day in the way that you live out a portrayal of Christ’s bride the church, and I’m speaking specifically to you ladies, because you have a role that no man can ever have on this earth as you portray the bride of Christ to a world that is hungry and lost and dead in its sins.
Note carefully what Chancey actually said here. She did not say that wives “portray the bride of Christ” to the world, but that all women do this, whether married or not. The idea that married women “portray the bride of Christ” is not uncommon, and lines up (at least on the surface) with Ephesians 5:22-33. The idea that single women can do this, however, is new to me. In fact, Chancey seems to view this “brideness” as some kind of quality inherent to womanhood and femininity. I’m not sure where she got this, other than by overextending Ephesians 5 to people it was never meant to apply to.
(Actually, the notion Chancey alludes to here – that marriage’s primary purpose is to “display” Christ’s relationship with the church – though it may sound correct, is really a subtle shift away from historical Christian ideas about marriage. A functioning marriage is like Christ’s relationship to the church, but that does not necessarily mean its only or primary purpose is as some kind of visual aid for the world to understand that relationship. In fact, this alleged purpose of marriage is not listed on at least one major Protestant confession. See also here for some other harmful consequences of this idea.)
What’s also strange in the above quote is Chancey’s statement about men, who can apparently never “portray the bride of Christ.” But how is this possible? The bride of Christ is the church, which includes a substantial number of men. And all one of those Christian men would have to do to “portray the bride,” is to tell us how he came to Christ – in other words, how Jesus saved him. This is extremely pertinent to Chancey’s point, as she repeatedly compares Jesus to a knight in shining armor who rescues his bride from a fire-breathing dragon and then carries her off to his castle. How a converted Christian man can never “portray” the rescued party in this relationship, is beyond me.
Stepping back for a moment to look at the big picture, what Chancey’s notion of some kind of inherent “brideness” in women really shows us, is how completely Chancey and her fellow patriocentrists cannot separate women from marriage. Women who remain single are, apparently, so foreign to them that Chancey, at least, takes terminology which the Bible reserves only for wives, and applies it to the unmarried without any kind of justification at all. We’ve seen this before in the Big Box – take, for instance, Doug Phillips’ repeated instructions to parents to train all their children for marriage, despite the fact that he claims some people are born with “the gift of singleness.”
What’s curious, however, is that Chancey can, apparently, separate men from marriage. She lectures women multiple times about making sure they “portray the bride” correctly by shunning feminism, living under their fathers’ roofs until marriage, and submitting to their husbands. But never once, in the entire 80-minute lecture, did she remind men to make sure they portray Christ correctly by finding a wife (“princess”) to “rescue”!
In the end, however, the bride metaphor is not the only one to be overextended:
Your dad might be a plumber, he might be a carpenter, he might be an accountant. Whatever it is that he does, he’s your father, and as such he is a reflection of the heavenly Father. Submit yourself to him, because you are this beggar maiden, and what glory there is to be a reflection of the choosing grace of God that says, I will take these lowly people and I will raise them up to be my bride. All of us, corporately, as the church, are the bride of Christ, but you ladies have a special path before you to represent the bride. I want you to think about that as you go through your life. What is the best way that I can show the world how the bride behaves? The father prepares the bride, my father prepared me. The groom, like my husband, submits to the will of the father. He submitted to the will of his father, he submitted to the will of my father. And the bride follows the groom, giving the world a beautiful picture of Christ and the church. This is our glory as women. It is the glory of lowly submission. Don’t hate that word. That word is glory, it is beauty, it is radiance, because our Savior came to submit to the will of the Father, to suffer an ignominious death, to die on the cross for our sins. He is our heavenly Groom and we are His bride.
We can see by Chancey’s references to Jesus submitting to God the Father, that she has roped the Trinity into this mess as well. This is, in fact, standard verbiage of the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS), a popular teaching among complementarians which states that women must submit to their husbands because Jesus submits to God the Father. Chancey, however, complicates it even further by comparing Jesus’ submission not only to wives’ submission, but also to a prospective suitor’s submission to both his biological father and the father of the bride.
This whole discussion is beyond ridiculous. In the Bible, the marriage relationship is compared to Christ and the church. That’s it. It is never compared to the Trinity, and any attempt to do so is out of place and unwarranted. It may seem like a convenient “trump card” for complementarians – after all, who’s going to argue with the Trinity? – but convenience rarely makes good doctrine. Complementarians cannot make up parallels in the Bible that aren’t there, merely to “get” those bad egalitarians. As for Chancey’s extension of ESS to the suitor-father relationship, that’s not only invalid on its face, but also hopelessly steeped in patriarchal courtship culture, which I’ve already explored here and here.
And before anyone assumes anything, I have no position on the validity or non-validity of ESS. In fact I refuse to take one. First, because the Trinity, beyond the basic facts of it presented in the historical creeds, is generally beyond my ken. Second, because meddling in the deepest and most sacred mystery in the universe – especially with only one hotly debated verse, in one of the strangest and most confusing passages in the entire New Testament, as backing – is deadly serious business – far too serious, in fact, for debatable nonessentials like gender roles and women’s ordination. Thus, the only position I will take on ESS, is that it is irrelevant to the gender debate, and both “sides” should have stopped talking about it years ago.
1 + 1 = God
Back in November, I noted a passing remark made by Elizabeth Botkin, in which she claimed that men and women are “the two counterparts which together make up the image and glory of God.” At the time I kept my rebuttal brief and pointed out that, according to Genesis 1:26-27, both sexes were created fully in the image of God, and that Botkin’s idea reminded me of a Christianized version of Plato’s concept of soulmates. That should have been enough, but the unfortunately the idea is hardly limited to the Botkins, and we encounter it again in Jennie B.:
Now mankind is complete. Without the woman, mankind was not complete. It was not good. The image of God was not complete.
Since I already rebutted this idea (see the Botkin post for my complete response), I’d just like to explore a few things that may not have occurred to Chancey and Botkin. These aren’t necessarily intended to be further rebuttals, but merely some things to consider that complicate the neat picture painted by the patriocentrists on this point.
First, let’s look for a moment at Vision Forum Ministries’ A Declaration of Life, the statement in which Doug Phillips outlined his dangerous stance on ectopic pregnancies. (A Declaration of Life used to be on Vision Forum Ministries’ website, which is now gone. I am quoting from a webpage image which I saved from that site before it was taken down.) Most relevant here is the section entitled “Personhood at Conception,” which reads as follows:
Whereas, the Bible affirms that the unborn baby is a person created in the image of God, possessing an eternal soul and bearing the nature of Adam at the moment of conception…
Now that’s all well and good and Biblical, and a pretty standard part of Christian and pro-life responses to abortion issues. But slow down a moment and look again. Since, according to Botkin and Chancey, the image of God is not “complete” without a man and a woman, can the unborn baby really be in the full image of God? It isn’t married; it might not even have brothers or sisters. Is it in some kind of “half image” until it is born and reaches maturity and marries? And most importantly, if it’s not in the full image of God, what does that do to the standard Christian response to abortion quoted above? Chancey and Botkin’s theory could be construed as limiting the right to life only to married couples, who together make one “complete” image of God.
Second, Chancey and Botkin’s theory fails to account for situations in which the line between male and female is blurred. We can see this even more clearly when we look at another of Chancey’s statements in Jennie B.:
Satan wants the world to understand that the bride is rejected, that her role as a woman is not important, that she doesn’t have anything feminine to say. She doesn’t even need to look feminine, because after all, God created male and female, but really He just meant to create this sort of androgynous being that represents Him. They want to say it is not good, it is not good that God made male and female.
Chancey is, of course, talking about feminism here and how women should not be filling male roles in society. But her statement has broader repercussions than that. What would Jennie Chancey, or any patriocentric parent, do if they had an intersex child (child born with ambiguous genitalia)? Is their child male or female? How can they tell? And more importantly, what does this do to the tidy patriocentric pink-and-blue conception of the image of God and gender roles?
Although, if we really think about it, perhaps the intersex individual is the fortunate one in the patriocentric system. After all, they have both male and female biology, and therefore, unlike ordinary individuals who have to get married to make one complete image of God, have both “halves” of God’s image within themselves – thus ensuring their right to life. And wouldn’t it be ironic if Vision Forum Ministries, one of the most strident and extreme pro-life organizations in Christendom, promoted a view of the image of God that inadvertently took the right to life away from the unborn, and restricted it to married couples and intersex individuals (whose very existence they don’t seem to acknowledge)!
Remain in your homes!
Another major theme harped on by Chancey was that of stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD). I’ve written a lot about SAHD in the Big Box, especially last fall, so most of what Chancey said about it was old news (for a thorough review of that material, see here, here and here). I will, however, be looking at a few new things Chancey mentioned. First up is her use of this verse:
The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. (Psalm 45:13)
Chancey claimed that since this “royal daughter” is glorious “within the palace,” Christian daughters should remain in their fathers’ houses (i.e., palaces) until marriage, rather than going off to live and work by themselves. When I first heard her say this, I rolled my eyes and knew immediately she had ripped the verse out of context. However, when I actually looked up Psalm 45, I saw that it was even worse than I imagined, because only shortly prior to vs. 13, we find this:
Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear: forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him. (Psalm 45:10)
Oops. So according to Chancey’s own interpretative slant, in which Psalm 45 appears to be some kind of instruction manual for daughters, daughters should not only leave their fathers’ houses, but forget them entirely. (Of course, in reality, Psalm 45 appears to be closely related to the idea of Christ and the church, not fathers and daughters, which is probably why it is labeled “The Glories of the Messiah and His Bride” in the NKJV.)
Another telling remark was made in passing, as Chancey described her apology to her parents for becoming a feminist in college (emphasis mine):
I have hated you, I have rejected your word, I have gone against all the things that you put into me, because I lusted after the power that the world says I must have. The world tells me, even the church tells me, that if I want any power I have to be like a man and I have to do the man’s job.
Apparently, then, in Chancey’s world, we must repent for rejecting not God’s word, but our parents’ word. Perhaps Chancey would respond that these are one and the same, but this is clearly not true in all cases, not even when our parents are Christian. Is it wrong, for instance, for a daughter to come to an opposite theological conclusion from her father – for example, if a girl raised Baptist discovers she agrees with infant baptism? Is this a “rejection of her father’s word” and thus “rebellion” against her father? And let’s not even begin to imagine what would happen in a situation where a girl’s father was abusive and used religion to justify or minimize his actions!
This last comment I found to be especially odd:
Your dad might be a plumber, he might be a carpenter, he might be an accountant. Whatever it is that he does, he’s your father, and as such he is a reflection of the heavenly Father. Submit yourself to him, because you are this beggar maiden, and what glory there is to be a reflection of the choosing grace of God that says, I will take these lowly people and I will raise them up to be my bride.
Other than the fact that Chancey appears to be extending ESS in yet another direction, this time to apply to father-daughter relationships, read the above quote closely. Fathers are, apparently, reflections of God the Father. Daughters, however, are a reflection not of God Himself but of His “choosing grace.”
I’m not sure we can flesh out many details of Chancey’s view just from this statement (other than that she’s probably Calvinist in some way), but I have to say, the possible directions this could go are, to my mind, quite bizarre. Does this have anything to do with her theory about the image of God mentioned above? Are women some kind of “derivative” image of God, as opposed to the “full” or “real” image which is only found in men? As I said, this is all very strange to me, and I wish Chancey had provided a bit more detail on this point.
Jennie’s crystal ball
…by the time I graduated, I was a full-fledged feminist. I was not gonna marry, I was gonna go find a ministry that needed me, and my gifts couldn’t be hidden from the world. Me, submit? No way. The world must see me, must see my glory and how incredible I am and how articulate and – yes, no, I need to be in a law firm, and I need to tell all the world how to live and what to do, because I’m a woman and hear me roar. … That’s when Doug and Beall Phillips came into my life, and several other people that God brought to break the blinders off my face – and when I’m talking blinders, I don’t mean like what a horse wears, I mean blinders a hundred feet long. Willful blindness, I will not see what God has for my life because this is what I’ve determined to do, and by golly I’m gonna stick by it and I’m gonna do these things. I’m gonna be this incredible woman whose gifts shock the world, and astound the world for Christ. And my desire for children, which my parents asked me about – well, don’t you still want to get married and have children? Oh, I’m not marrying any of those guys. I spent four years watching the guys at college, no way. They want big houses, big cars and wives with big hair. They don’t want the children. They’re interested in the 2.5 or the 1.8 and pop ‘em off into daycare, no way, I’m not marrying that, uh uh, not me. If I want children, I’ll go – I’ll become a Protestant nun, and I’ll have an orphanage in Africa, and I’ll have lots of children that way. Well, ladies, that’s not where the Lord wanted me.
I’m not sure if we learn more about Chancey here, or about her assumptions. She comes dangerously close to claiming that all Christian women who self-describe as feminist (or maybe even just disagree with her) are, apparently, willfully blind to God’s truth; disinterested in marriage and children; and only out to make a name for themselves by having an “astounding” ministry. How Chancey can know the mind of all these women, is beyond me. Perhaps these were her reasons for embracing feminism, but that tells us little or nothing about anyone except Jennie Chancey. I won’t disagree with her that if your only reason for going into a ministry is to “make a splash” and be famous, you have the wrong motive – but it’s not as if only women or feminists can fall prey to such thinking.
In short, just because Jennie Chancey felt that God was not calling her into a life of singleness and ministry, does not mean that He never calls any women into that lifestyle. Has she never heard of Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward? Or would she seriously maintain that their missionary work was inappropriate and they should have stayed home and gotten married instead?
Chancey also shows a complete inability to recognize legitimate points of debate in Christianity. For instance, after the quote above, she goes on to tell about a series of Bible studies, in which Beall Phillips supposedly broke through Chancey’s “willful blindness” to women’s God-ordained roles in society. The implication is made throughout that, just as Chancey was “willfully blind,” so are all who disagree with her on this point. In other words, all egalitarians are deliberately denying a self-evident truth staring them in the face, and rebelling against God’s order.
It should go without saying that this is a dreadful caricature of egalitarians. Even if you are complementarian and disagree with their interpretation of the Bible, you should at least respect the fact that another Christian can read the same verses as you, and come to a different conclusion. Gender roles in marriage and women’s ordination are NOT salvation issues. So please, please, complementarians – stop acting as if they are.