Influential pastor, author, and theologian John Piper was recently asked for his thoughts on the tsunami of powerful men exposed for sexual abuse in the wake of the crimes of Harvey Weinstein. The question referenced a past article that Piper summed up as follows: “egalitarian assumptions in our culture, and to a huge degree in the church, have muted — silenced, nullified — one of the means that God has designed for the protection and the flourishing of women. It has silenced the idea that men as men — by virtue of their created, God-given maleness, apart from any practical competencies that they have or don’t have — men have special responsibilities to care for and protect and honor women.”
Piper responded with the podcast ‘Sex-Abuse Allegations and the Egalitarian Myth’. Here he asserted this theorem of cause and effect: “It’s a firm conviction of most of our egalitarian culture that men as men do not owe women a special kind of care and protection and honor that women do not owe men. I believe they do. I believe fifty years of denying it is one of the seeds bearing very bad fruit, including all those sexual abuses you talked about in your question. There are others seeds in our culture, but this is one of the seeds.”
Given Piper’s reference to “fifty-years” I presume he defines “egalitarian culture” as the social change ignited in the 1960s which sought to dismantle power structures oppressing women and achieve equal rights within the private and public sphere. Piper also seems to assume egalitarian doctrine (the belief that God created men and women equal in authority when he commissioned them to fill creation with his image) is but a bad seed of this bad culture, a seed which has intrinsically unhinged men, fracturing their capacity to care for women and directly causing them to abuse women in epidemic proportion.
Both those of (hierarchical) complementarian and egalitarian (non-hierarchical complementarian) views should be concerned by this theory. Let's examine some of the assumptions which underpin Piper’s thesis:
1. Abuse of women by men has only been endemic post 1960.
2. Reverting to 1950s style gender roles would prevent much abuse.
3. Affirming equal rights for women disempowers men.
Abuse of women by men has only been endemic post 1960.
This isn’t true. This abuse has been endemic post fall. To suggest otherwise is to disregard all recorded history. Weinstein is not a new breed of man. He is a very old breed of man. #metoo doesn’t highlight a new phenomenon; it is a sudden scream of brave voices uniting to uncover the iceberg tip of a crisis that has gripped the globe for all documented time. As are the discussions surrounding domestic violence and toxic masculinity making headlines in Australia. What is new is women are finding freedom and voice to speak up about this abuse and question if certain embedded social structures and norms foster this behaviour.
A dutiful 1950s housewife would not suffer so much abuse.
No study of the 1950s would substantiate this. To suggest hierarchical gender roles prevent abuse and gender equality encourages abuse denies both history and social reality. As shown in Julia Baird’s recent study ‘Submit to your husbands’: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God,’ church cultures where male headship and female subordination are upheld are not refuges from domestic violence, instead this doctrine finds itself twisted to nurture abusive behaviour and protect abusers. Existing in a patriarchal God-fearing world did not protect Hagar being taken as a sexual slave by Abraham, Tamar being prostituted by Judah, Bathsheba being raped by King David. As said by Megan Powell Du Toit in her article ‘Christians need to reform their ideas about sex and power,’ “History and social science back up what our Scriptures tell us- that those in power lose empathy for those under them, start to use their power to obtain what they want, and sexually misuse their power.”
Rather than seeing gender equality as causing abuse, the first World Humanitarian Summit called for, “woman’s rights and empowerment to be central principals of humanitarian action,” as “Gender inequality prevents woman and girls leading safe, healthy, and dignified lives.” The Australian study ‘Change the story: a shared framework for the primary prevention of violence’ found that when it came to stopping violence against women, “gender inequality is the core of the problem and the heart of the solution.”
Affirming rights for women disempowers men.
“Equal rights for others does not mean less rights for you. It’s not a pie,” so goes this popular quotable. It’s true. Gender equality is not a battle cry for matriarchy, it is… for gender equality. Think of it this way—if equal rights for women disempowers men it can only be because the power lost was the power to subjugate women.
But the thesis that equal rights for women ruins men’s capacity to care for women and causes them to rampantly abuse women does grossly disempower men. It excuses them of any responsibility for their actions and claims they are incapable of being vessels of God’s sacrificial love unless firmly seated in a position of power over womankind. Throughout scripture all humanity is seen as culpable for sin, and enabled to love by sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and being infilled with his transforming Spirit.
And in the end, this thesis boils down to victim blaming, an attitude which marginalises victims, stops victims reporting abuse, allows abusers to excuse their actions, and prevents wider society seeking justice. For what happens when we take this thesis to its extreme. “But what was she wearing when this alleged assault took place?” “Oh, she was wearing egalitarianism.” “Egalitarianism! Well, she was clearly asking for it!”
But who amongst John Piper’s peers will call him to account?
John Piper, ‘Sex-Abuse Allegations and the Egalitarian Myth’16 March 2018, DesiringGod. https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/sex-abuse-allegations-and-the-egalitarian-myth
Julia Baird with Hayley Gleeson, ‘Submit to your husbands’: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God,’ 18 July 2017, ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-18/domestic-violence-church-submit-to-husbands/8652028
‘Change the story: a shared framework for the primary prevention of violence,’ November 2015, Our Watch. https://www.ourwatch.org.au/What-We-Do/National-Primary-Prevention-Framework
Megan Powell Du Toit, ‘Christians need to reform their ideas about sex and power,’ 14 February 2018, Eternity. https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/christians-need-to-reform-their-ideas-about-sex-and-power/
‘UN officials call for concrete commitments on gender equality at World Humanitarian Summit,’ 17 March 2016, UN News.https://news.un.org/en/story/2016/03/524662-un-officials-call-concrete-commitments-gender-equality-world-humanitarian
‘Press release: At World Humanitarian Summit, UN Women calls for women’s rights and empowerment to be central principles of humanitarian action,’ 23 May 2016, UN Women. http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2016/5/media-advisory-world-humanitarian-summit
‘Avoiding Victim Blaming,’ Centre for Relationship Abuse Awareness. http://stoprelationshipabuse.org/educated/avoiding-victim-blaming/
Hello, I’m Laura Tharion, and I am passionate about spreading the joy and wonder to be found in living a resurrected life inside Jesus Christ. I enjoy tea, cake, history, hammocks, wild bushland, gardening, reading, and gifting my favourite books into the hands of others. I had the pleasure of studying at Sydney Missionary and Bible College before my three lovely little boys arrived to fill my days. Here I picked up the pet soap-boxes of mission advocacy and teaching the Bible as one unified story. I have a heart to write—sermons, studies, articles, meditations, poetry, and epic novels, all which aim to explore theology and encourage everyone to fully realise all they have been given and commissioned in Christ.