Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism on the Atheist Channel at Patheos (meaning Libby Anne is an atheist) just penned an article titled “Mark Driscoll (Re)Invents Patriarchy” that I’d like to respond to. What Libby Anne wrote was in response to a sermon Mark Driscoll delivered on January 29, 2012 as part of his “Real Marriage” series titled “Men and Marriage.”
Before getting started I want to put it out there that I myself am an atheist. I watched the sermon by Mark Driscoll Libby Anne is responding to and nowhere does Driscoll ever suggest that he is “reinventing” patriarchy, he is merely explaining patriarchy in the Christian context he is a part of and that he is advocating. Anne makes a point of claiming that modern evangelical leaders who support patriarchy go out of their way to distinguish what they teach from the bad old woman hating patriarchy of the past and then Anne makes the follow-up argument that in actuality what the modern evangelical leaders support is exactly the same as the bad old woman hating patriarchy of the past. What is funny is that Mark Driscoll never made the claim that he was supporting a form of patriarchy that was different from the past and in general religious leaders who support patriarchy do not claim that their teachings are “new and shiny” as Anne puts it; in fact they claim entirely the opposite, that patriarchy is what the Bible teaches. That patriarchy is therefore as old as the Bible and that indeed patriarchy is what Jesus Christ himself intends for mankind meaning that patriarchy itself is as old as mankind.
There is another oddity in Libby Anne’s critique of Mark Driscoll’s message to men about their responsibilities as men in marriage; that is that Libby Anne completely ignores the fact that God is above the man in how Driscoll describes the man’s role as head of the marriage. The husband is meant to emulate Jesus Christ as Christ represents the perfect husband and he is supposed to obey Christ and reflect the love of Christ in how he treats his wife and children. The man is not the center of the family in Driscoll’s teachings; God in the form of Jesus Christ as expressed in the Bible is the ultimate head of the family. Anne completely ignores the central role of God in Driscoll’s teachings regarding marriage and the man’s role in marriage. This is quite bizarre since Mark Driscoll is after all a Christian preacher and yet Anne in her commentary about what Driscoll is teaching completely ignores the religious content and context of what Driscoll is saying.
Below are some quotes from the video to show how Driscoll is framing the man’s role in marriage:
Men and Marriage – Real Marriage – By Mark Driscoll
3:52 to 4:21; 10:06 to 11:54; 23:55 to 25:17
“This is what it means when the Bible uses the language of “head,” that we [as men] are responsible in the sight of God for the well being of our wives and children. And so men in this sermon on Men and Marriage you need to know that if your wife struggles or fails to grow in Godliness, if your children struggle or fail to grow in Godliness, it is your responsibility in the sight of God.”
“Your understanding of marriage has to be covenantal, not contractual. And if I had to break it down into its simplest form I would articulate it this way. Contract is about me [the man] negotiating terms that benefit me. It’s selfish. Covenant is about me giving myself to you for your well being. It’s servanthood. Covenant is about your [the woman’s] benefit. Contract is about my [the man’s] benefit. . . .Covenantal thinking says God wants me to become what you need. God wants me to love you as you need. God wants me to serve you as you need. God wants me to invest in you as you need. Covenant is about what is best for you. Contract is about what is best for me. It’s the difference between selfishness and servanthood. And in a covenantal marriage a husband and a wife are in covenant with God through faith in Jesus Christ and they are to be in covenant with one another and the Bible says as Jesus loves and serves the Church so the man as the covenant head is to similarly lovingly lead his wife. So that she flourishes and grows in the grace of God.”
“So men let me tell you what your responsibilities are. And these apply as well to the ladies. I’ll give you four responsibilities. Number one, your first responsibility. Christian! Repent of sin, trust in Jesus, death burial and resurrection. Read your Bible, grow in grace, pray. Be involved with God’s people in the Church. Christian. First things first. Your covenant relationship with God. You’re here today trying to fix your marriage and you don’t know Jesus? That is not your first priority. Your first priority is to get into relationship with Jesus and out of that relationship with Him He will change you so that you can be a better spouse. Your second responsibility is to your spouse. That means husbands, your wife; wives, your husband. Your next priority, your next responsibility is spouse. Then third, parent. If God should bless you with children; loving them, serving them, raising them, investing in them, and growing them. And let me say this, if you invert these you will destroy your children and your marriage. . . .And number four, your fourth responsibility is worker.”
Now onto the substance of Libby Anne’s critique. Libby Anne focuses on the idea of men protecting women from other men and how absurd this idea supposedly is. In reality men protecting women from other men is exactly how a civilized society works. Male headship in marriage and male authority in general is actually about supporting and protecting women globally from all hardships and dangers they may encounter; dangerous men being only one of the dangers patriarchy is meant to protect women from. Still one of the purposes of patriarchy is certainly to protect women from abusive male behaviors.
In how Mark Driscoll sets things up the father is supposed to guide and protect his daughters until the daughter is “handed off” to her husband who then serves to protect his wife. This makes perfect sense. Using the quote from Mark Driscoll that Libby Anne highlights:
“Let’s say for example there’s a daughter, and she’s got a close relationship with her covenant-head, Christian dad. That headship protects her from other boys who want to come along and be her head, tell her what to do, set an identity for her, abuse her, endanger her. It protects her from other young men who would come to take that place of headship in her life. Similarly with a wife, if the husband loves her like Christ loves the church, and he takes responsibility for her, that protects her from bad men, bosses, men who have ill intent or those who are perverted.”
In the way Driscoll is setting things up a young woman will be protected by her father from miscellaneous boyfriends who may be irresponsible or exploitative or even abusive in their behaviors towards women. Similarly a woman will be protected by her husband from men who might be exploitative or abusive towards his wife.
This makes perfect sense because a girl’s father has a strong connection and investment in his daughter and is also older and wiser than his daughter and is more intimidating than his daughter. This is compared to any miscellaneous guy who might be interested in the daughter but has not shown himself to be trustworthy or to be seriously committed to the daughter or to have good prospects to be able to provide for his future family. If a potential boyfriend passes through the various hurdles and shows himself to be the best man and commits to marriage then he has earned the status of the woman’s husband and can then play the role of protector himself. Until then however the man has not earned the right to take on the headship role in relation to the father’s daughter. Same thing regarding the husband protecting his wife from various men who might mean his wife harm or be exploitative towards her. The husband has already shown his high investment and trustworthiness towards the woman; otherwise he would not have been able to marry her in the first place. The husband then has earned the right to serve as the head and protector of his wife and is in the position to protect his wife from the various miscellaneous men who might harm her. The man who has committed to the woman and has shown good character towards the woman outranks all the other men interested in the woman or in lesser relationships with the woman.
Libby Anne is acting as if the concept of men protecting women from other men is an absurdity since if a man is dangerous by virtue of being a man then nothing is gained from an inherently dangerous man “protecting” women from other inherently dangerous men since the so called male “protector” is just as likely to turn around and attack the woman himself once he is given the trusted status of being the woman’s “protector.” The problem with this line of thinking is that some men are more dangerous than other men. The minority sociopath man is more dangerous than the majority socially well adjusted man. The man who has made a high commitment and investment in a woman is less dangerous than the man who only has a casual relationship with a woman. A man who can act as a neutral third party whose primary interest is the well being of the woman, such as a woman’s father, is more trustworthy than a potential suitor who has the obvious self-interest of trying to gain a relationship with the woman. Women are most protected when the most trustworthy and least dangerous categories of men are empowered over the least trustworthy and most dangerous categories of men. The whole point of empowering fathers to protect their daughters from potentially harmful boyfriends and empowering husbands to protect their wives from potentially harmful relationships with other men is so that the men who are the most trustworthy and protective of women’s interests will be in charge.
Another point that should be emphasized is that the marriage model that Driscoll is advocating places God at the head of the family, not the husband. The husband is given the duty to serve his wife and love his wife like Christ loved the Church; the individual man is not considered the highest authority, God is. What this means is that duties and responsibilities and restrictions are placed upon the man’s behavior by the religious community the man is a part of. If the man is truly abusive and out of control the law can intervene to punish the man and protect the woman.
What Libby Anne is promoting as the ideal is a social situation where women themselves are empowered and therefore don’t need any man to protect them. The problem with this is that empowering women doesn’t work as a means of protecting women since men are intrinsically more powerful than women and do have a capability to harm women and be exploitative towards women if they are so inclined. If men are removed from having responsibilities to protect women men will not be as protective towards women and this will only lead to more abusive behavior by men towards women. Furthermore disempowering men from their protective role in women’s lives will lead to a universal disinvestment and abandonment of women on men’s part which will harm women in a number of ways beyond making them more vulnerable to men’s abusive behaviors. Women are intrinsically vulnerable to men and intrinsically in need of men’s support. Empowerment of women cannot work as a means of protecting women and only leads to women becoming more endangered than before.