The recent post by the The Gospel Coalition has, as usual, generated more heat than light. Like all of my other brothers and sisters who are like me, bad egalitarians, I was similarly repelled by the content of a recent post. I have intentionally left the link out to the offending post so as not to distract and also to warn you: the material within that post is incredibly offensive. A few quick observations on the backstory to this conflagration.
One: the blog author, Jared Wilson, was attempting to criticize the current popularity and the underlying ethos related to the series of books partially titled “50 Shades of…” In part, the major themes of the book esteem male domination and erotica. The blog author attempted to demonstrate how such literature was antagonistic to the Gospel, and to healthy male-female relationships.
Two: the blog author also cited another Christian author to marshall support for his argument: both of them share a similar complimentarian perspective on male-female relationships.
Three: Unfortunately, the rhetoric employed by the blog author was far too close to the very material that he was criticizing. This is why I caution you about reading the original post: it’s ugly, and even the author knows this.
Four: The posting of the blog and the follow-up post elicited a groundswell of angry responses from egalitarian perspectives.
Unfortunately, for these complimentarians, they are-at least- guilty by association.
There are, no doubt, people who are similarly repelled by the “50 Shades” series. And some of those people also share the complimentarian perspective on male-female relationships. None of that latter group would ever endorse violence against women. Saying this as a bad egalitarian does not mean that I am in favor of or would endorse the complimentarian position. And I won’t.
As egalitarians, though, we often ascribe to our complimentarian-Christian brothers and sisters a commitment to abuse, oppression, and injustice directed at women: because their reading of the Gospel. I don’t have some Pollyanna view of people that would exclude violence against women coming from people with the complimentarian perspective. But, I also want to trust that when the authors respond with indignation to allegations and labels made of them that they promote violence against women, they really have been misunderstood.
Wilson made a huge rhetorical mistake in selecting the material to counter the “50 Shades” series: It’s just way too close in proximity to the very material he wants to warn his readers about. In his indignation, he hasn’t been able to wrap his brain around this reality: that his selection of readings to counter the sick and idolatrous perspectives within “50 Shades” inadvertently aligned him with the position he aimed to repudiate. Here, my sense is that Wilson has a blind spot. But, that does not mean that he has a conscious commitment to violence against women.
Now, I’ve mentioned in this post that I describe myself as a bad egalitarian, and that deserves some explanation here. I’m using the rhetoric of “bad” in a way to acknowledge several matters that I, my wife, my mother, my daughter, my sister, the female members of my extended family, and my female friends and colleagues already know and can confirm for you: I am an imperfect and highly-fallible egalitarian.
At the risk of this post running interminably, I will just recognize that “walking the talk” for egalitarians is much like the coveted “daily quiet time”: it takes regular, habitual practice to integrate into one’s relationship with the Lord and with one’s spouse/mother/daughter/sister. No one ever arrives as an egalitarian, and there’s no moral or theological high ground with which to confront our fellow Christian complimentarians who assume much of the same posture we do in attempting to fulfill their theological commitment to complimentarian perspectives.
As to the “50 Shades” series itself, much to my surprise, I received an email from Amazon about its pending publication-good grief: what did I purchase that prompted that email?- and happened to pass through an airport at nearly the same time: and there were stacks of “50 Shades of Grey.” Not long after that, I read a review in the LA Times about it as well. In brief, as then, so now: I wondered…well, several questions all popped up simultaneously: How does erotica suddenly become mainstream, airport and Amazon best-selling, literature? How is this series riding the coattails of the Twilight series? What’s up with this popular esteeming of male domination of women? And connecting it to erotica? Am I missing something here? Why does this series feel threatening?
Then, I came in contact with a friend from years and years ago through Facebook, and later spotted a post from her: she had concluded reading the series, and wanted to pray for a “Christian”, which I believe is the main male character of the series. I wonder if she was making an attempt at humor. “Astonishment” does not quite capture my reaction. Why any woman would welcome that kind of relationship- and clearly I am straining the connotative possibilities to “relationship”- into her life leaves me incredulous.
My growing concern is that, in all of glad-handing and back-slapping that all of us bad egalitarians are performing, dismissing our complimentarian Christians- some of whom share the same cup with us on this coming Sunday, we are not anticipating nor praying for what will follow and exceed the “50 Shades” series. God help us, for we are not only bad egalitarians: we are simply bad at understanding our culture and how to serve it in the name of Christ.