Thursday, August 31, 2017

When Religious Patriarchs Speak On Sexuality And Gender. The Case of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood* is a group of Evangelical leaders who tell their flocks that the gender roles which prevailed two thousand years ago in nomadic tribal cultures are eternal and decreed by a divine power.

The Council expressed its sour views on gender equality in 1987 in the Danvers Statement, which explicitly states that husbands are the bosses of their wives at home and that men are the heads in the covenant community.  Thus, an eternal and unchanging hierarchy exists, and any attempt to disrupt it is seen as terrible.

Feminism was especially singled out as one rational for the Danvers Statement:

the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives;
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has obnoxious opinions which are also advocated by Wahhabists in Islam and by the most orthodox strains of Judaism.  The gist of all those is that gender hierarchies are eternal.

Just to make all that absolutely clear, the same Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has come up with the Nashville Statement which tries to fill in all the gaps in that argument, to keep the hierarchy very clear (and to cause even more suffering, of course):

“The Nashville Statement” was written as a follow-up to that statement [the 1987 one], in response to what the group sees as a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgender rights. The council’s co-founder, John Piper, who is also a Baptist pastor, wrote that the statement addresses the “destructive consequences” of this modern inclusive culture.
I don't see the "destructive consequences" in the statement itself, but I've learned that when conservative patriarchs talk about such destruction, they really mean that someone is gnawing off the rungs of the ladder they have successfully climbed, and they fear falling down.

That so many religious groups advocate permanent gender hierarchies makes the criticism of such beliefs imperative for anyone who doesn't wish to emulate the cultural gender norms which prevailed two thousand years ago.

But progressives, in general, should pay attention to these arguments, too,  because if women are supposed to be subjugated to their husbands*, how can they exert independent power in the labor market?  If a husband has the veto power over everything his wife does, why would anyone trust her word?  And if he can decide when she should withdraw from the labor force, how should employers choose between married women and married men in promotion decisions?  Could we ever have a female president?  And who decides how the income is shared inside families?  Who gets to allocate any government transfer payments inside families?  Whose career needs will be prioritized?

Most Americans do not believe in the Biblical Big Guys' interpretations of their holy texts.  Note, however, that the more "religious rights" are pushed by the Trump administration, the closer we come to these opinions playing a much larger role in the labor market, education and politics.


*  Specifically, the Council advocates complementarianism:  the view that men are created for one thing and that women are created for another thing, and that when we add the two slices together they create the totality of everything that is.

The problems with that view are many.  Not only are the views in the Bible based on exceedingly ancient gender norms, women and men are not each others' complements in a vast majority of fields of operation and in general  women and men are more alike than they are different.

The approach also supports male headship without any real controls on that (to rule out violence as a way to exert dominance, say) or without any need to demonstrate leadership skills or concerns for those one leads, and the approach doesn't care if in at least some families the wives would actually be more competent leaders than their husbands.

But the deepest problem with that whole approach is the concept of complementarianism when deprived of any concerns for equality.  If I bake a giant chocolate cake, eat almost all of it and give you the crumbs left on the plate, our food intakes were complementary in the sense that we ate the whole cake.  Thus, complementarianism hides inequality and the possibility that the good bits are given to one side in these divine deals.

**  In the ideal fundie world that's how marriage would look like.  There would be no same-sex marriage, no egalitarian marriages, no real choice not to marry at all and still have sex.