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John Piper to Women: You’ll Stay in your Place and you’ll Love it!

Jasmine points us to a rather heinous video of John Piper giving some blatantly misogynistic pastoral advice to Christian women. Pretty much it just boils down to a wheezy sort of used car salesman-sounding attempt to relegate women to being nothing other than wives and mothers. He just tells them to love being submissive wives and mothers who support and aid the gifts and distinctives of their husbands. Wow.

The assumption he makes about what all women just are supposed to be doing is quite astounding. What ever happened to the long-standing Christian theology of vocation? It has been part of the fabric of Christianity from the beginning that there is a radical diversity of charisms within the body of Christ, requiring all manner of different ministries, regardless of gender (leaving aside the thorny issue of ordination for the moment, which is a more serious matter, especially for the churches that persist in enforcing a male-only priesthood).

For Piper, the whole notion of how women might function as Christians is mediated through their identities as subordinate wives and nurturing mothers. Even were one to hold to an exclusively male theology of ordination, Piper’s notion of how men and women function as ministers in the church would still be deplorable because of how it insists that our ecclesial function is mediated through the family and marriage. This mode of subordinating the charismatic to the familial is profoundly contrary to the eschatological nature of the Christian gospel, especially in its Pauline dimensions. 

It is also disgusting. It is truly sad how far the church still has to go in its attempt to purge away its long-standing misogyny. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piDU443CdvI]

Be sure to check out Jasmine’s comments on the video which are right on the money.

18 Comments

  1. Hill wrote:

    Just reiterating: you gotta read Kristin Lavransdatter :)

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 3:04 pm | Permalink
  2. Doug Chaplin wrote:

    But I would say that far from getting rid of misogyny, Piper and his ilk are developing a novel (and I suspect heretical) theology of sexual differentiation and ordering. They are deeply disturbed by the cultural changes of their society, and (being unable to accept the cultural component of scripture) are making a fetish of some poorly understood verses in reaction to what they perceive in terror as militant feminism.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Permalink
  3. sometimes it seems as though sending the subject of our speech an email would be a much more Christlike move, rather than blogging about him and calling his actions “heinous.” if he has sinned against you, go to him first, individually. i think this may be one of those times that is an appropriate response.

    piper may need to hear from his (brothers and sisters?) personally. and his (brothers and sisters?) may be served well to get the full context of his comments…

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  4. graham wrote:

    But, hey, look on the good side – they might get to raise boys!

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Permalink
  5. Nathan Smith wrote:

    @Doug:

    “Poorly understood” comes up in this debate a lot with reference to controversial scriptures. Also “obscure” – both this and homosexuality. I probably agree with you, but I think it might be a poor characterization.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  6. Geoff wrote:

    I’d say wrong about his overall views on the matter, but not heinous, but I only have an undergraduate degree and I haven’t finished Barth’s Dogmatics yet, so I’m probably not qualified to make that remark.

    It is interesting though that Piper is talking specifically, it seems, to the wives of clergy who might actually have questions about how to be faithful to Christ in terms of being hospitable to dangerous people, spending time and money on the needy, and working to instruct others in the church when they have 3 or 6 kids. Piper’s answer seems to be “wait.” I do understand the idea that trying to instruct women, with children, with questions is mysogynistic, I just don’t know if that axiom applies here.

    Once again, his soteriology won’t bear the weight of his theological distinction between men and women, there is no doubt about that. But the fact of the matter is that in his context his advice isn’t so destructive as one might think. I guess he could have said that wives should not stand by their husbands and not submit to them.(which in my understanding is a mutually binding imperative) He could also have said that they shouldn’t pray that their boys take responsibility for leadership, nor wonder what to do next when the kids are gone. I suppose he could have told the women who ask him the questions that occassioned the discourse to exercise their Christian liberty by not caring for their children and by putting their own interests above their husbands(once again Christians are to put other’s interests above their own, this applies to wives, husband, children, and anybody else), also he doesn’t address single women at all.

    I understand that the theology is wrong, if that is even a theological category anymore, I just don’t see the utter ugliness of the whole thing. At least he isn’t telling people that Christ’s work might be invalid for them because they worshipped in a room with a flag or celebrated thanksgiving.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 10:44 pm | Permalink
  7. Hill wrote:

    There is far too much agreement in this thread. I’m going to come out and say it: Halden, your rhetoric here is a vast over reaction. Heinous? He’s clearly addressing a Protestant milieu which has a very limited concept of vocation, that is certainly true, but this isn’t particularly misogynistic, it’s just a bankrupt concept of vocation, and has just as many deleterious effects for men as it does women. He just happens to be talking about women here. This is chiefly a question of the nuptial character of vocation and for an ecclesial community that has abandoned any concept of consecrated religious life, there are two possible vocations in this respect: being married, and trying to get married, which is to say there is only one vocation, being married. This applies equally to both men and women. Once the only possibility for nuptial fulfillment is defined as marriage to a human of the opposite sex, then it’s easy to see how one is forced to interpret scripture as he is here. Just to play devil’s advocate, I’ll quote some salient bits:

    “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

    and

    “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

    So it seems clear that man and woman were designed to be united with one another in marriage, and whatever the effects of the fall may be, this is in the Mosaic law and reiterated by Christ. However, Christ also teaches that this earthly vocation might be sublated and given up for the kingdom of heaven, and the tradition has come to understand this not as a mere renunciation, but as a kind of proleptic entering in to the fullness of the marriage of Christ and the Church on this side of the eschaton.

    “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

    This concept of the nuptial meaning of life, of consecrated celibacy, has by and large evaporated from the Protestant mind. So I would suggest that the origin of the problem illustrated by Mr. Piper’s remarks is not misogyny, per se, but an impoverished concept of the nuptial character of human existence, and as a result, a collapsed vocational universe.

    Friday, August 29, 2008 at 11:15 pm | Permalink
  8. Niko wrote:

    How dare God imbue women with the inconvenience of motherhood. Surely this deity must be a misogynist. Surely He should know careerism and having a vocation is a heavenly calling.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  9. Evan Kuehn wrote:

    Thanks, Hill. I think anyone who takes care enough to listen to Piper knows that he is no misogynist, and I think you hit on what is wrong with his views very well. I’d also agree with Trevor about the problem of this sort of use for blogging. Posts like this make me wonder if I should shut down and log off to engage in more charitable interactions with people.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 6:03 am | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    Maybe heinous was too strong a word. Or has connotations that people don’t like.

    While Hill brings up some techinically correct points about how this understanding of vocation hurts both men and women we shouldn’t allow this observation to make everything a wash. How this kind of rhetoric and practice hurts women and how it hurts men are quite different and that difference shouldn’t be brushed over.

    Also I did not say that Piper is a misogynist, at least in a narrowly technical sense. I said that the advice he gave is misogynistic. What I meant by that is that it encodes a sort of logic that is sexist.

    I’d also point out that all of the tsk tsking that’s going on in this thread is coming from males. Sure its easy for us to inject a sort of detached nuance and precision into these discussions, but that sort of apparent detachedness comes from the fact that we don’t hear these sorts of statements in the same way that women do. They don’t effect us in the same way, and more often than not we just want to dismiss their distinctive experience of how these things shape them in hurtful and diminutive ways. Jasmine’s reflections on this video bear that out.

    I sense an oddly disturbing impetus in many of these comments to try to hush up this discussion far too quickly.

    Finally, I don’t see how it is inappropriate to write publicly about a publicly released video. I didn’t write this because Piper sinned against me or some nonsense like that. I wrote about it because he is a teacher of the church and, in regard to this issue, his teaching is problematic and should be challenged in light of its deleterious effect on the body of Christ.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 9:51 am | Permalink
  11. Geoff wrote:

    I’m not for hushing, I have my own criticisms of Piper, I just got the distinct impression that this particular criticism didn’t quite make its mark. Then again, I am a male, so I may be missing the more subtle problems caused by and inherent in this kind of teaching.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  12. Theophilus wrote:

    If Piper is in fact addressing wives of male church leaders, then he hasn’t said anything wrong, per se, as far as I can tell. It’s what he hasn’t said that is problematic here. I don’t know whether Piper said other things different than the gist of this clip that were cut by the clip’s editor, whether he merely responded to a question without also discussing the alternative case (what does a man do when his wife is in church leadership), or whether Piper is, in fact, misogynistic. But Piper doesn’t have a strong track record with me. He keeps saying things that are true but omitting other important counterpoints needed to bring fullness to his positions when I’ve read him.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 11:12 am | Permalink
  13. Hill wrote:

    The essence of my reservations about your post is that there really wasn’t any theological analysis at all in your criticism. It came across as totally reactionary. I didn’t find Jasmine’s comments to be even sort of insightful:

    “Piper has a death-grip on control. His fear-based language is apparent when he says that there are some women-dominated churches that have driven men away.”

    This is hysterical reactionary rhetoric. His point about women-dominated churches is actually an empirical fact that has been noted with subtlety and charity by many churchmen, both Protestant and Catholic, and it doesn’t imply chauvinism to make that point. If one doesn’t agree, they simply have very little exposure to your average american church, Evangelical or Catholic. This sort of thing really comes off as those people get in the mood to rage about misogyny and then spend 30 minutes on youtube looking for something to beat up on.

    Try to bring the relevant scripture to bear on the problem. If, by your standards, Piper is encoding a sexist logic, then I’m afraid Paul is too. I’m definitely not for shushing, but shushing is precisely what you did in the original post. This guy may be something of a quack, I have no idea, but we still owe him and each other the decency of bringing some sort of theological point to bear in our criticism of him, and I’m afraid that is not the source of your disapproval here, at least not in an unambiguous way. I have full confidence in your ability to do just what I’m saying, or I wouldn’t have written this.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  14. Hill wrote:

    Theophilus raises an important point: there are massive, intractable problems inherent to performing any kind of exegesis of a youtube video, especially of this (rather common) genre, the interview clip where there are no audible questions. They are a breeding ground for uncharitable assumptions.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  15. graham wrote:

    HIll, I don’t think that there are any intractable problems here. Anyone who’s read ‘Recovering’ knows what Piper’s views are. There’s nothing here that’s out of context or liable to be misunderstood.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  16. Hill wrote:

    My point is that what you are saying may be obvious to you, who is aware of the context, but in this venue, there is precisely no context at all. All I have access to are his words, literally taken, in this youtube clip, and I find them to be far less problematic, in that context, than some are willing to grant. Imagine the possibility of a serious, young Christian, much like many of the readers of this blog, who had by some coincidence never been exposed to 1 Peter 3 or other similar passages in the NT. The same discernment that would lead one to rail against the comments made in this youtube video would likely lead the same person to rail against a word for word quotation of 1 Peter 3. I am all for rooting out sexism and misogyny in the church, but to suggest that such a thing is trivially and unambiguously described and named is simply naive. I mean… wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands, and he’s speaking either to wives or to prospective wives. In the absence of a more compelling exegesis, I am compelled to agree with him on that score. The problem, in my view, is that he can conceive of no other experience of the fullness of womanhood other than earthly marriage, which results in a kind of one-dimensional “women ought to be wives and wives ought to be submissive, and that’s what femininity means” position. I can’t disagree with him that wives ought to be submissive to their husbands. He fails to grasp the vocational fullness of human existence. For many evangelicals (and this is from vast personal experience) vocation means where you should go to college, who (not if) you should marry, and whether or not you should be a dentist or a lawyer or a real estate agent, and that’s about it.

    Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  17. Evan Kuehn wrote:

    Hush up this discussion? Tsk tsking? You mean because people disagree with your assessment? I see no glowing accounts of Piper here, even where disagreement with you is present. And I see a lot of insightful new points being brought up. As Hill said, “there is far too much agreement on this thread”.

    Sunday, August 31, 2008 at 5:05 am | Permalink
  18. Caroline wrote:

    I sepnt about a year listening to Piper and average of 3-4 hours a day sometmes up to six. Part of this time I was unemployed and thus I was able to emerse myself. I read several of his books, I bought many and passed them out and then I gradually become more alarmingly aware of his mysognist undercurrent and tone.

    It wouldn’t be heinous to male I suspect, and someone rightly surmised that it could be the case that their maleness made them less senstive to undertones. I was raised in churches where women are not supposed to vote, wear slacks, work outside the home, serve in any position in the church, literally other than the nursery or the kitchen I am familiar with extreme gender stereotyping. I went along with it most of my life but being forced due to circumstances I could not control, to go to work and to try to raise my daughters on my own–I realized that the ultra reformed fundamentalist vision of the little helpmeet did not get food on the table. I was not prepared remotely to support myself–college was not an option for females where I came from and in our church there was a fear that women would go to college and get an “independent spirt” (read have choices with what to do with their lives besides put up with outrageous abuse of very sort because they had no options.)

    Piper does not think women should even have supervisory positions at work, (lest they usurp authority over a man). This relegates us to a life of poverty if we are trying to raise children alone. And since Piper does not believe in remarriage under any circumstances after a divorce, irregardless of abuse, infidelity or any other manner of devastation. Single mothers are left in the position of being the sole providers.

    I did write all of this to Piper and he lost my devotion as a follower when he proclaimed his love for Mark Driscoll, who talks about women in such I way that it is shameful. I said, well you protect the women from men like this when you insist that we have no power to protect ourselves. I got no reply. He does not reply.

    Frankly, men would not have the same sensitivity to this issue of Piper’s mysogeny nor would married “spiritually covered” women who go along with the party line because after all it is their bread and butter and the roof over their heads to do so. In other words they have no compelling reason, such as trying to support children, keep a roof over their heads and survive a male dominated world.

    While men can have academic discussions on the web and they abound, about women’s rightful place “underneath men” and not having any leadership (look up Women Civil Magistrates) at sermon audio. They do not for 10 seconds walk in the shoes of mothers trying to survive while having their options stripped away from them in the name of biblical order. They lay burdens on women they themselves could never carry and I beileve the indifference to the suffering caused by the burdens they lay on women, who already suffer a great deal on this earth, is dispicable.

    Sunday, September 28, 2008 at 11:52 am | Permalink

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