Moore Of The Same
I’ve critiqued Russell Moore in the past, but since his followers keep holding him up as a paragon of godliness and scholarship, it doesn’t hurt to remind them of how wrong they are. The most recent I’ve seen is at bWe, where the Moore article is linked in the comments by someone using the name “Robert”. Since there is no link to the commenter he is essentially anonymous and could be anyone... including Moore. ;-) The vaunted article is a text document at this link, and I encourage you to read it before reading my critique, as I’ll be using the article’s headings for reference.
Moore begins with the tired old accusation of bowing to culture. But he, as is typical of male supremacists (MS), conveniently forgets the historical norm of male rule being “the culture”... that is, until one wishes to appeal to the Old Testament’s (OT) reporting of patriarchy as not culture but God’s divine order. So from the first paragraph we’re already seeing a very familiar double standard: if what culture is doing favors males, it is God’s order; if it does not (whether it’s equality or the much rarer favoring of females) then it is the evil culture we must make war against. This is the fallacy of “special pleading”, which in my experience is one of the “pillars” of MS.
The “war on culture” theme continues into the second paragraph, as if the New Testament (NT) ever says such a thing. That is, we never see in Acts, the Letters, or even the Gospels a mandate for Christians to fight culture. Jesus never said a thing about slavery being bad (which was one of the arguments used to say it was God’s divine order in America’s past, an example of argument from silence), or pedophilia, or bestiality, or many other evils including MS. Neither did anyone in the NT promote such a war, but instead focused on changing the world one convert at a time. It isn’t “culture” we are to be fighting, but Satan, who laughs at how easily we’ve been turned from our real enemy.
II. Evangelical Theology and the Eclipse of Biblical Patriarchy
The title alone makes some bold assumptions: that something called “Biblical Patriarchy” has been eclipsed, and that patriarchy/male supremacism (PMS) is somehow “Biblical”. We’ll watch to see whether those assumptions are supported.
The first paragraph cites a study purporting to have analyzed “how evangelical men actually think and live”. I don’t have the time or inclination to go read the study so I’ll take Moore’s assessment, since this is all about him. And the first statement is that “the most conservative and evangelical households were also the ’softest’ in terms of familial harmony...”. So far we’ve only seen what all evangelicals apparently do, not what PMS evangelicals do, so this statement gives no preference to the PMS cause.
The second paragraph has Moore dissing secular university researchers as a group. No one would dispute the fact that researchers can be biased or incompetent, but secular researchers are no more prone to this than evangelicals, especially on a hot-button topic like women in Christianity. I’m quite sure that Moore would not cite any evangelical study that disagrees with his foregone conclusions, so we can expect that either this one does, or Moore either misquotes it or misunderstands it. Citing studies from a variety of researchers would be ideal, but of course it isn’t practical to do so here. So take Moore’s interpretation of this study as at best one person’s opinion of it.
As a lifelong evangelical myself, I can speak with some authority on “what evangelicals really think and how they live”. But I find a statement by Moore in this paragraph very revealing: “It is not akin to discovering that nineteenth-century slaveholders had less racist attitudes than northern abolitionists.” Think about that: is it even possible for any slaveholder not to be racist (keeping in mind we’re talking American slavery of blacks)? While some northerners may have had supremacist attitudes, it is only the south that institutionalized it into something “good” and God’s divine order. That is, while some individuals in the north believed whites to be superior to blacks, the south’s consensus, by law, was that this was how God created people and ordered society; see Sound Familiar.
But then Moore says this: “[Wilcox, the researcher] shows that the ’softness’ of evangelical fathers is a result of patriarchy, not an aberration from it. When men see themselves as head over their households, they feel the weight of leadership— a weight that expresses itself in devotion to their little platoons of the home”. PMS is thus allegedly shown by one researcher’s study (or Moore’s interpretation of the same) to be the way to familial harmony, because the men “feel the weight” of their supremacy and the need to dispense it benevolently. The reader is being manipulated into pitying these poor, weighed-down “platoon leaders”. Such a burden, being responsible for the righteousness or sinfulness of others! Yet obviously there is not one shred of NT support for any “platoon leaders”; in fact, Jesus expressly told His disciples that instead of jockeying for preeminence they must not “lord over”, which PMS tries to make equivalent to benevolent lording over. So PMS usurps a place foreign to the kingdom of God and then wants to be pitied and respected-- and above all, obeyed-- for it!
This feeble argument comes not from scripture but from culture; there isn’t a country in all of history, besides relatively recently in the west, when men didn’t believe that peace in the home and society began with a proper pecking order, which regardless of the variations always had women at the very bottom. But the irony is deep here: Moore and his researcher are appealing to culture to make their case! “What people do” is hardly proof of what God wants, but as I said in my opening paragraph PMS operates on a double standard. If for example we cite the many studies which show that an imbalance of power in a marriage is a leading cause of domestic violence, and that evangelicals in this situation show no advantage or “softening”, PMS will still reject it as “bowing to culture”. But when we look at scripture we see a complete overturning of such pecking orders; if there is any such thing at all, it is upside down. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven will be the lowest slaves, the ones who don’t vie for position or try to make this ambition a case of “divine order and heavy burden to bear”. And as I’ve said before, nobody fights for a humble position. The fact that PMS forbids half the human race from its “humble” position exposes it as having nothing at all to do with humility, but only with power.
The next paragraph quotes Wilcox on what typical Father’s Day sermons are about and how church programs “endow fatherhood with ’transcendental meaning’”. But wait a minute: isn’t he supposed to be only observing how evangelicals live, and not what they hear in church? Moore goes on to claim that this is based in scripture, and Wilcox adds that “human fatherhood is reflective of divine fatherhood”. But where is the chapter and verse to back up these claims? Then Wilcox appeals to James Dobson of “Focus On the Family”, hardly an unbiased source. But why is Wilcox reading Dobson instead of observing actual families, and from a wide spectrum of evangelicalism? If Wilcox is the authority being cited by Moore, then why is Wilcox citing Dobson? It seems at this point we have a case of authorities of a particular bias appealing to each other. Then we see statements about parental authority, but this again is not supportive of paternal authority. Who disputes that both parents have authority over their own children? How does this argue for father ruling over mother?
Citing a non-flattering source in an attempt to appear balanced, Moore quotes a sociologist named Smith that “American evangelicals speak complementarian rhetoric and live egalitarian lives”. Isn’t this a telling rebuttal to PMS, showing that it simply does not work in real life? Real people, even evangelicals, know that it takes an equal balance of power between husband and wife to make a marriage work and to raise emotionally and spiritually healthy children. Some give lip service to PMS but their own experience shows how bankrupt that theology is.
This is seen by Moore as a very bad thing, but not because it destroys his theory. He sees it instead as evil “prevailing cultural notions of feminism”. Here again we have a legitimate, Biblical appeal to “not so among you” put on the same level as radical, liberal “feminazis” who hate men and want to destroy the family. Moore is so afraid of losing preeminence that he simply cannot tolerate the slightest elevation of women. Every argument that raises women up, no matter how apologetic and polite, threatens the male power base and must be stopped at all costs. That is the distinct impression one gets when reading PMS arguments.
Of course, no PMS diatribe would be complete without whining over the number of women working outside the home. The woman of Proverbs 31 is forgotten and the realities of economics are ignored. But in a jaw-dropping display of narcissism, Moore laments this not so much for the alleged ill effect a dual-income family may have on children, but its effect on “the headship of the husband himself” (p. 571)! As for his rhetorical question, “How does the husband maintain a notion of headship when he is dependent on his wife to provide for the family?”, let us have him ask his own followers and compatriots of PMS: what indeed happens to “male headship” if the man is disabled or dies? If the laws of our land have the wife legally responsible for all debts and she has been kept out of the workforce for perhaps decades, how is she to suddenly become the breadwinner for herself and her children? Is she back under her father, who may not be alive anymore, or her brother if she had one and he can support her and her kids? If she works she feels guilty for being the “head”, and if she doesn’t she is at the mercy of relatives, if she has any male ones. And if PMS will make exceptions in such circumstances, then where is the Biblical permission to do so? Are PMSers going to appeal to “common sense” now, while denying this right to egalitarians? Here again we see that PMS does not work in real life.
I noted with great amusement the statement on p. 571 where Moore describes a woman sending her husband to Promise Keepers “as though she were a mother sending her grade-school son off to summer youth camp”. It’s amusing because when egals argue that PMS treats women as perpetual children, we are accused of being harsh and insulting to comp women-- as if we are the ones who treat them as such and call it God’s divine order! Yet Moore reserves the privilege of seeing women leading men as treating them like children. There’s that double standard again, and it’s even more glaring when he holds up Beth Moore (coincidence of last names here?) as an example of “seeing a woman in the pulpit” being familiar to evangelicals. So she’s allowed to stand behind The Sacred Desk without violating God’s divine order, but no other women can? And it’s wrong for a woman to send her husband to PK but not to write books or give seminars? How can anyone make sense of such a twisted, impractical, and unreasonable theology?
But as a movie line puts it, “Reason’s got nothing to do with it”, for we see Moore on p. 572 saying “We must instead relate male headship to the whole of the gospel.” He is unashamedly making “male headship”, a term absent from the pages of scripture, a non-negotiable plank in the gospel itself. It isn’t Christianity that Moore is worried about, but specifically “complementarian Christianity”. And then we see a quote I mentioned in my 2008 article Straw Man Burning: “concessions to the therapeutic and consumerist impulses of American culture”. Then he quotes a woman scholar (!!?) named Pamela Cochran as blaming egal for attacking Biblical inerrancy in order to “make the feminist project fly”, and she essentially calls egals liars for saying we only appeal to scripture. So not only are egals lumped in with radical secular feminists, but also with “liberals” destroying the SBC’s version of Christianity.
Then Moore frames the debate as between societal norms and “tradition” instead of scripture. But if “tradition” is wrong and culture is wrong, to what does Moore appeal? Again the double standard: “tradition” is the rewritten history of the good old days when men ruled and women drooled, so he defines “tradition” to suit his own view and makes culture the enemy and threat to the idyllic yesteryear of his imagination. And again the irony: “tradition” is simply the “cultural norm” of the past. Moore, and all PMS, argues in circles.
III. Evangelical Theology and the Recovery of Biblical Patriarchy
Now we come to Moore’s solution to this great and terrible problem of women thinking they are fully-grown humans in the image of God. Moore fears this “encroachment” on his divine headship and must mount a counterattack. (Yes, I’m getting snarky now, but Moore makes it so hard to resist.) He quotes C. S. Lewis (ignoring Lewis’ later change of mind on this topic): “C. S. Lewis included male headship among the doctrines he considered to be part of ”mere Christianity,“ precisely because male headship has been asserted and assumed by the Christian church with virtual unanimity from the first century until the rise of contemporary feminism.” Not only was Lewis ignorant of the historical reality of Christian women in leadership in the first century, but again this is an appeal to culture.
Yet if Moore is laying out a strategy to repel the evil monster, why is he still looking backwards? He does get around to it in the next paragraph though, and makes a bold claim which his sycophants deny whenever we quote him: “Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy”. His first line of attack is to proclaim this loudly and often so as to drown out the voice of egalitarianism. He had said in the previous paragraph that debates over scripture were not working, and were giving the impression that PMS is something less than the gospel itself. So he advocates giving up on that and getting to the very heart of what he calls the gospel. We need to remember this and throw it in PMS faces every time they want to get to scripture: their man Moore says it’s bad strategy. What this says to us egals, however, is that PMS lost the debate on scripture; they have no leg to stand on from the Bible so they lean completely on the culture of some time they liked from the past. Sounds just like Islam.
But he already knows that one of the weaknesses of the PMS gospel is its inconsistency: it can’t come to a consensus on exactly where the limits of women’s permissions lie (there’s that treatment as children again). So what does Moore do? Appeal to culture. And if it’s a culture in the Bible and God doesn’t say it’s wrong, then it counts as God’s sanction, right? Wrong; that’s an argument from silence. If God approved of patriarchy then by the same argument He also approved of polygamy, a “tradition” that was never removed in the NT except for elders. God even gave instructions on how to treat slaves, which parallel instructions on how to treat women. Yet somehow in the twisted wreckage called PMS theology, slavery and polygamy can be jettisoned but patriarchy is absolutely divine. If Moore wants to appeal to how people did things in the OT, then he can’t pick and choose which things God sanctioned.
I’m not sure whether he does this out of ignorance or utter blindness, but to cite C. J. Mahaney’s “sovereign grace network” as an example of comp “vitality” is very good for the egal cause, because anyone who knows what Mahaney and SG is about describes it as a cult from which escapees are badly damaged. Even in his hit parade of PMS bastions on p. 574 he admits lack of uniformity but admires “directness”, as if the latter covers over the former. Regardless of how divided the PMS community may be over women’s roles, the important thing to Moore is that they are forceful about it. And then the followers of such men wonder why we have a problem with their nasty condescending attitude. Here it is being taught as a strategy for repelling egal! Now we know. It reminds me of the lesson of 1 Kings 12, where Solomon’s successor Rehoboam rejected his father’s advisors’ advice to be kind to the people, and instead listened to his peers’ advice to be harsh and overpowering. The lesson is that heavy-handed rule, not egalitarianism, is what causes rebellion. Moore is doing exactly what scripture warns us not to do.
Then Moore appeals to the masculine terms used to describe God, and it is here that he introduces the old Arian heresy of a God of three wills instead of the real Trinity. Quoting Wilcox: “God the Father stands at its Trinitarian core”. If the Father rules over the Son who rules over the Spirit, then they are not one God but three; this is Tritheism, not Trinitarianism. Whether the “lesser two” comply or not is irrelevant; the very act of compliance is an act of a separate will. If dismembering the very God we worship is necessary to prop up PMS, it is defeated forever as the heresy it was recognized to be in the days of Arius and Athanasius. Moore would deny the Trinity in order to keep his place. He even dismisses egal scholars such as Kevin Giles as engaging in “Trinitarian bungee-jumping” (quoting Bruce Ware and Peter Schemm), and claim that their heresy is the “orthodox” view even though it is PMS’ ESS teaching that is new. But rewriting church history cannot save the sinking ship of PMS unless we all shut off our minds and eyes.
Moore goes on to extol the virtues of half the human race ruling over the other half with all the familiar citations of male-centric terminology in the Bible. But as all other PMS teachers, he ignores God’s indication of His ideal whenever He does intervene in history: Cain over Abel, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, David over 7 older brothers, etc. Does scripture not say that God shames the wise by the foolish and the strong by the weak (1 Cor. 1:26-29)? Did Jesus not say that the first shall be last (Mt. 19:30), and that those who exalt themselves will be humbled (Luke 14:11)? Then where is this divine mandate for patriarchy? And where is the excuse for why the Savior could only come from “the seed of the woman”? Eve was greatly honored in this, and it says something profound about the difference between her sin and Adam’s, and about what being a “help” would ultimately mean.
As we mercifully approach the end of the screed, we see another case of guilt by association: egals are lumped in with Open Theists. It seems that Moore will stoop to any depth in order to demonize that which threatens his privilege due to his flesh. Then it’s on to familiar slippery slope argumentation, and of course more irony: egals are a slippery slope to liberalism but somehow PMS is not a slippery slope to domestic abuse. Yet there is no denying not only this glaring double standard but also the fact that “Christian” men who abuse their wives cite PMS teachings to justify it. No egal teaching can be used to sanction domestic abuse, while PMS must continually dance and “bungee-jump” to put fine print on their teachings of imbalance of power. Moore cries “straw man” against this argument, but burns one of his own by presuming egals don’t accept the penal/substitutionary atonement of Christ.
In a classic display of Orwellian doublespeak, Moore trots out the old “headship isn’t about male privilege” line-- all evidence (and the whole paper so far) to the contrary. If this isn’t about male privilege, then what is Moore afraid of? What does PMS fear losing? And what is it about lack of privilege that women simply must not have? What is “final say” if not male privilege? And if PMS teaching does not empower wife abuse, then why do they have to work so hard to say they don’t condone it?
Next Moore practically blames all the ills of Western society on egal alone: casual sex, divorce, homosexuality, and abortion. His libelous rant shows the “fruit” of any teaching that cares more about hierarchy than love or unity of spirit. But then, after calling egals unbelievers in thinly-veiled terms, he hardly considers us as people he needs to get along with. Yet if we are lost, then where is the love for the lost that is shown to others, even atheists? He even blames egals for those who abuse male authority!
No Russell, egals aren’t winning the debate because he-men have gone “soft”, but because we really do have stronger arguments-- which isn’t too hard after we’ve seen the arguments for PMS. Go ahead and be like Rehoboam, it’ll make our job easier.