IMPORTANT ADDENDUM (11/8/14): A&E fully explain their concept of submission and how it relates to gender in chapter 4. Please read this post for the entire picture.
“If red touches yellow, it can kill a fellow. If red touches black, it’s okay for Jack.”
This is the rhyme I learned as a child to tell the difference between the eastern coral snake and the scarlet kingsnake. It was never of much practical use to me, since the eastern coral snake lives in the South and I live in Connecticut, but it’s good to know anyway for one simple reason: the eastern coral snake has powerful neurotoxic venom, while the scarlet kingsnake is harmless. Thus, it’s important to be able to tell the two species apart quickly should you encounter one of them in the woods.
Since a visual is needed to really understand the rhyme, here’s an eastern coral snake (image source).
Now compare with the scarlet kingsnake (image source).
As the rhyme states, the coral snake’s red bands touch its yellow bands, while the kingsnake’s red bands touch its black bands. In zoological circles, this phenomenon is known as Batesian mimicry. Predators know that the coral snake is venomous, so the scarlet kingsnake evolved to mimic the coral snake just closely enough that predators would mistake it for its dangerous counterpart and leave it alone.
A&E do something similar in the third chapter of So Much More – except in reverse. They cloak their toxic patriocentric teachings in complementarian language. Readers who are unfamiliar with patriocentricity will not notice the subtle difference, and will thus mistake A&E for complementarians and let them pass unquestioned. Let me show you what I mean.
Rungs on the ladder
Even before the fall, there was an order – a hierarchy of authority – established by God. This order states that man is the authority over the woman and is supposed to lead her. … The reason for her submission to him is not a result of the fall, or of our now sinful natures. It was God’s plan for humanity from the beginning.
So man’s first responsibility to woman is to lead her in the same way that Christ leads the Church. He is her spiritual head and covering.
Sounds good and normal, doesn’t it? Not that different from any standard complementarian teaching about headship and submission in marriage, right?
Wrong. Look again.
On first blush, a few things here sound the same as complementarianism. After all, complementarians do believe that the headship-submission hierarchy within marriage predates the Fall and is part of God’s design for humanity, and that husbands should lead their wives as Christ leads the church. But, ask yourself this: where in this passage did A&E say that their teaching was limited to husbands and wives?
Now, I trust, you can see the problem.
I asked in the last chapter whether A&E believe all women must submit to all men. This passage would seem to prove once and for all that the answer to that question is YES. This is a clear statement that men (in general), were created by God in a “hierarchy of authority” over women (in general). Thus, A&E are interpreting Adam and Eve’s relationship as a representation of all men and all women for eternity, while complementarians see it (at least on this point) as a representation of husbands and wives only.
The same goes for the idea of male headship. Don’t complementarians believe in male headship, at least in marriage and the church? Yes, they do. But A&E didn’t stop at headship. They said that men are women’s “spiritual head and covering” (emphasis mine). And for those with ears to hear, that’s a different animal entirely.
I briefly mentioned the idea of “covering” in an early Big Box post, when Doug Phillips claimed that Abraham was Sarah’s “covering.” (This turned out to be based on an antiquated translation choice in the King James Bible, which is not preserved in newer translations.) The idea is similar to Bill Gothard’s “umbrella of protection” – which I know Vision Forum supported because I once caught S. M. Davis repeating it verbatim – summed up well here by a writer at Recovering Grace (post also includes a chart with an even clearer explanation):
The umbrella was over the dad, and if the dad was right with God, then there were no holes in the umbrella. If the mom was under the husband’s authority, then Satan couldn’t get to her. Or the kids.
But, at any time, the dad might get out from under God’s “protection,” and Satan could get him and the family. I say “Satan could get” with no humor. Satan was the enemy to be feared. If you didn’t do what your parents said, and do so cheerfully while going the extra mile, then you weren’t really obedient. Satan could attack you.
In simpler terms, when a husband “covers” his wife spiritually, he protects her from Satanic attack – but only to the degree that he conforms with God’s will. If he fails to conform with God’s will, those under him (wife, children, etc.) are open to Satanic interference. Underlings can also make themselves vulnerable by stepping out from under the husband’s protective authority.
While it’s hard to say, just from this chapter, how many of Gothard’s details carry over into A&E’s thought, the concept of “covering” still reinforces the idea that men as a group are in authority over women as a group. In fact A&E seem to speak of men generally as a covering for women generally. Unfortunately they don’t give any information about how exactly this works in real life. In practical terms, I doubt they would consider any random man on the street to be any individual woman’s covering, since the woman would then be simultaneously covered and not covered by every man on earth, all of whom are obeying and/or disobeying God to some degree. Heck, using that logic, A&E themselves are under the covering of militant atheist Richard Dawkins! 😉
In summary, while I can’t flesh out much about A&E’s covering theology at this point, I think it is safe to say that they believe men as a group, are in some kind of authority over women as a group, and that this entails some sort of submission on the woman’s part. And frankly, that’s disturbing enough even without the details.
In an earlier post, I asked why A&E spend so much time focusing on father-daughter relationships when the Bible hardly talks about them. Interestingly, A&E partly admit this in chapter 3, but then immediately salvage the idea by announcing their interpretive rationale:
Because the Bible doesn’t give a huge amount of instruction exclusively to fathers and daughters, most of what we have to work from are the passages setting the patterns for men and women in general.
My question after reading the above is, can we really transfer general passages about gender relations onto all opposite-sex relationships without modification? Would A&E transfer these passages carte blanche onto mother-son relationships? If so, they would be left with the absurdity of a grown woman submitting to her 3-year-old son. Does a grandmother have to submit to her adult grandson? A female teacher to her teenage male students? A female president to a male speaker of the House?
I also question A&E’s accuracy when they identify which passages show us “patterns for men and women in general.” They’ve already claimed that Ephesians 5:22-33 is about men and women in general, even though it is clearly about husbands and wives only. They’re also only mentioning passages which confirm their preexisting bias, since there are other passages about gender that shed a more egalitarian light on the situation. For instance, does Galatians 3:28 have any bearing here? And if not, why not?
In other words, this is not as simple as A&E make it sound. Their ideas about father-daughter relationships are hardly the “plain teaching” of the Bible – in fact they have to do a huge amount of interpretation and reading between the lines to get to them, as they half-admitted above – and those who disagree with them are not all rebels who decided to defiantly shake their fist at God and go become godless feminists. Many egalitarians reached their conclusions after an honest study of Scripture. So did many complementarians. An honest assessment of either point of view will deal with both the passages that seem to support it, and the passages that seem to undermine it. And it is possible to find both complementarian and egalitarian writers who have done just that.
A&E, unfortunately, are not among them.
While we’re on the topic of egalitarianism, I’d like to give a shout-out to my good friend Jeff S. and his new blog, Love Without Fear (also in my blogroll at right). His recent post, Coming Out of the Egalitarian Closet, is an account of his “conversion” to egalitarianism. It is not an exegetical post, but puts a human face on the situation – which would, I think, be a good thing to see for a few folks on the more right-leaning side of the gender debate. Egalitarians are people too! (Jeff’s old blog, Steady On, is also well worth reading.)