Not your grandfather’s patriarchy

In addition to arguing that patriarchy is more faithful to the Bible, modern-day complementarians claim the mantle of historic Christian orthodoxy. “What we believe is what the church has always believed,” they argue.

But it’s not.

There’s a big difference between modern-day complementarianism and traditional patriarchy.

Most complementarian marriages today are more or less egalitarian. That is, most husbands rarely (if ever) exert authority over their wives, except maybe when a “tie-breaker” is needed.

For example, earlier this week I partially quoted Tim Keller, a moderate complementarian, speaking about the husband’s headship. Here’s the rest of his quote:

But there can’t be a misuse [of the husband’s authority], where it’s done so ‘I can get my way.’ The only time a husband can use his authority to overrule is… in order to serve and to take care of his wife and his family.

Or take Russell Moore. Even though he doesn’t like the fact that most complementarian marriages are “functionally egalitarian,” he nevertheless warns men against abusing their authority:

[There are people who] think they are complementarian and what they mean by that is ‘Woman, get me my chips.’ Male headship [asks], ‘What is in the best interest of my bride and my children?’

Yet when you start reading the church fathers, what you find is precisely a “Woman, get me my chips” attitude.

And worse, in some cases.

Tertullian (155-235 AD), for example, would’ve had a fit over modern-day complementarianism, because it teaches that both women and men are made in God’s image. Not only did Tertullian reject this; he laid full blame for the fall at the feet of women everywhere:

You are the devil’s gateway. You are the unsealer of that forbidden tree. You are the first deserter of the divine law. You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man.

Or how about Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)? He seemed to think women were only useful for “spinning wool and weaving, and helping with the baking of bread… also fetch[ing] from the pantry the things we need.”

Woman, fetch me my chips!

Perhaps things like… chips?

Or how about Augustine, who apparently felt that women were good for little apart from procreation? (And even that was sinful, as far as Augustine was concerned.)

Or Basil the Great (329-379 AD). His advice to women whose husbands beat them was essentially, “Sit there and take it.” In a homily on 1 Corinthians, he wrote:

However hard, however fierce a husband may be, the wife ought to bear with him, and not wish to find any pretext for breaking the union. He strikes you, but he is your husband… he is henceforth one of your members, and the most precious of all.

Complementarianism claims to be in lockstep with the historic church, but the truth is: they, like their egalitarian brothers and sisters, have dramatically softened the patriarchal worldview of the Bible and the church fathers. The main difference between complementarians and egalitarians is one of degree.

We all find it necessary to adapt parts of our faith and practice to the world in which we live. The question is whether we’re honest about it.

The divinely inspired books and letters that we call Scripture were written to people living in a much different world. Their problems and cultural hang-ups were not our problems and hang-ups (and vice versa). That’s why it’s not always a simple matter of just “doing what the Bible says.”

It’s no use claiming one side is faithful to the whole Bible while the other side “picks and chooses.” We ALL pick and choose.

The real question is, what assumptions, values, and presuppositions drive our choices?

How about “love your neighbor as yourself,” which Paul said was the fulfillment of everything else in the Bible? How about a commitment to the fundamental equality and dignity of every human being — which demands (among other things) the full participation of women in the church?

These values are rooted in the creation narrative, where every single person, male and female, is said to bear God’s image. They’re rooted in the cross — the ultimate expression of love, which leveled the playing field for humanity. They are the foundational values of the church, a renewed community of faith where distinctions like “Jew and Greek,” “slave and free,” or “male and female” are rendered irrelevant.

If we’re going to “pick and choose” — as we all do — then let’s choose the path that best reflects these values.

Complementarianism and the Bible

Some complementarians want to frame the gender debate as a battle for the Bible, the gospel, and the very soul of the church. Some have even implied that their side is the only one that takes scriptural authority seriously.

Exhibit A, Thomas White, from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

If we lose the battle over the gender debate, we lose the proper interpretation of God’s Word, we lose inerrancy, we lose the authority of the Bible itself.

Exhibit B, Wayne Grudem:

I believe that ultimately the effective authority of Scripture to govern our lives is at stake in this controversy.

And exhibit C, John Piper:

As soon as you ask what are the implications of not following through with what Ephesians 5 seems to say or what 1 Timothy 2 seems to say… sooner or later you are going to get the gospel wrong.

Complementarians revel in their embrace of the so-called “difficult doctrines” or less palatable parts of Scripture. According to Wayne Grudem, egalitarians “pick and choose” what they like and don’t like in the Bible. Complementarians, on the other hand, faithfully adhere to “every word.”

But it’s not even close to being true. 

How many complementarians, for example, support reinstating the biblical test for an unfaithful wife? Women suspected of adultery were forced to drink a vile cocktail of water, dust, and ink — which, according to Numbers 5, would cause them to miscarry if they’d been having an affair. (That’s not very “pro-life,” is it?) ANY woman could be subjected to this indignity, even if the only basis for suspicion was her husband’s paranoia. And by the way, she had no similar recourse if she suspected her husband of infidelity.

Yes, it’s part of the Old Testament. But remember, Dr. Grudem said “every word.”

How about Leviticus 27:1-8, which assigns a monetary value to men and women? Males ages 20-60 were valued at 50 shekels of silver. Women the same age were worth only 30 shekels. How do we square this with the belief that women and men are “equal before God,” something modern-day complementarians strongly affirm?

What about Paul ordering women to cover their heads during worship? Complementarians frequently refer to Paul’s teaching about headship in 1 Corinthians 11, yet they mostly ignore the part about head coverings (which was the whole reason for Paul’s comments about headship in the first place).

Or what about the apostle Peter who, after advising slaves to essentially take a beating for the Lord, told wives to obey their husbands “in the same way”? I don’t know of any mainstream complementarian who argues that Christian wives should stay in abusive relationships for the sake of their unbelieving husbands.

So how is it that complementarians follow “every word” of Scripture while only egalitarians “pick and choose”?

Next up: complementarianism’s appeal to church history…

Image: Ryk Neethling on Flickr

Mutuality in the real world

Mutuality 2012 is done and dusted, but here’s hoping it’s only the start of a renewed conversation about equality in the church.

Hence this post: How does mutuality work in the real world?

More specifically, how does it work in a real marriage? (Note: not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s notion of a Real Marriage.)

Is mutuality even practical?

Complementarians say no. Even if mutuality works well enough most of the time, they argue, every marriage comes to a stalemate at some point.

So what do you do then?

This was the question put to Amanda and me by our former pastor during one of our premarital counseling sessions. He asked what I’d do if I was offered a job in another state, but my wife didn’t want to move. (The irony will become apparent shortly.)

According to complementarian theology, somebody has to make the final call. Giving the wife an equal say is fine when you can come to agreement without too much bother. But whenever you reach an impasse, the husband becomes the decider-in-chief.

Male headship, then, is to marriage what the vice president is to the U.S. Senate: a tie-breaker. So argues Tim Keller:

Headship sometimes involves tie-breaking authority. In a marriage, you only have two votes; so the occasions do arise when there’s an impasse. How do you break the stalemate? It can only be broken if one party has the authority to overrule.

I agree with Keller that most relationships need a tie-breaker at some point. I just don’t see why it should fall to the man to break every stalemate.

However you interpret the apostle Paul’s statement that the “husband is the head of the wife,” neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer ever said it’s the husband’s job to be the final decision-maker. That’s an assumption which complementarians read into the text, not something the text actually says.

Returning to the question of how this all works in real life…

I remember a time when Amanda and I were faced with a major decision. We were contemplating an overseas move (ah, the irony), and we just couldn’t agree. Amanda wanted to go for it — and I did too, at first. But then I started having second thoughts. Major second thoughts.

Honestly, it was one of the most difficult points in our marriage. No matter how many times we hashed it out, we just couldn’t get on the same page.

Eventually, I conceded. I deferred to my wife’s judgment. I’d like to tell you this was some magnanimous gesture on my part, but it wasn’t. It was more like a grudging concession.

Looking back, though, if I hadn’t listened to Amanda — if she hadn’t broken the tie in that case — we would’ve missed out on one of the most incredible experiences of our lives.

There have been other times when I’ve been the one to break the tie. Somehow, through 10 years of marriage, it’s always worked out, regardless of who got to be the tie-breaker.

Sometimes Amanda has the most wisdom or the clearest perspective. Sometimes she can see things that I can’t. Sometimes the smartest thing I can do is defer to her judgment.

For me, appointing myself the final arbiter purely on the basis of my gender would be an act of colossal arrogance (not to mention stupidity).

I hope that over the next 10 years of marriage, I get better at listening to my wife — becoming more attuned to her perspective, her wisdom, and her unique insight. Sometimes she has the better judgment, plain and simple.

Sometimes, I would make a lousy tie-breaker.

Yes, a wife’s submission is culturally outdated (a response to John Piper)

It seems #mutuality2012 has caught John Piper’s attention. Piper is one of the elder statesmen of the complementarian perspective, which teaches that women must unilaterally submit to the authority of men in both the home and the church.

Today, Piper tweeted the following:

At issue are the “household codes” in the New Testament (Colossians 3:18-25; Ephesians 5:21 – 6:9; 1 Peter 2:18 – 3:7), which address the relationship between husbands and wives, children and parents, and slaves and masters.

Complementarians often cite these household codes when arguing that God wants women everywhere to submit unilaterally to their husbands. Egalitarians like me point out that if you’re going to argue this way, consistency demands you interpret the slave/master passages the same way.

Not so fast, says Piper. The article he tweeted, “Is a Wife’s Submission Culturally Outdated?” by Tony Reinke from Desiring God Ministries, argues that Paul treated marriage and slavery differently. Therefore, even though both appear in the same set of household codes, one is forever binding and the other is not. Wives’ submission to their husbands is rooted in “the theological fibers of creation or eschatological expectation.” In other words, the instructions concerning husbands and wives “have theological strings attached to them that slavery does not.”

I’d like to suggest three problems with this argument.

1. None of the household codes say anything about creation.

Paul does appeal to creation elsewhere — for example, when giving some ground rules for women prophesying in church (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). But unless Piper & co. are prepared to tell women to start wearing head coverings to church, they may not want to hang their hats on this argument.

2. Paul roots slaves’ obedience in something much bigger than creation.

It’s true that Paul doesn’t base his instructions to slaves on anything in creation or eschatology. Instead, he roots it in obedience to Christ:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ… (Ephesians 6:5-6, NIV)

In other words, pretty much the same way the wife’s obligations to her husband are rooted in obedience to Christ.

3. Four words: “In the same way.”

The apostle Peter also included a set of household codes in his first letter. After instructing slaves to obey even when their masters abused them, he turned his attention to wives:

            Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands… (1 Peter 3:1)

Peter makes no distinction between a slave’s obedience and a wife’s. Married women are to submit in the same way (Gk. homoyoce) that slaves do.

In short, Piper is pressing an artificial distinction. Both commands are rooted in theology. Both are connected to obedience to Christ.

Both were also products of their culture. Household codes were hardly unique to Paul or Peter. (Rachel Held Evans has a good overview, if you’d like to read more about them.)

Similar codes are found in ancient letters from Philo and Josephus. The household codes were considered essential to the preservation of Roman society, at the center of which stood the pater familias or head of the family. Any new movement or sect thought to undermine the authority of the pater familias (and with it the stability of the whole Roman system) would have drawn unwelcome attention.

Paul did not throw away the Roman household codes; to do so would have been suicide for himself and the early church. But he did seek to reform them by urging the pater familias to show a measure of kindness, restraint, and respect not typically expected of him.

Paul did not liberate the weaker parties (slaves and women) from their culturally-bound obligations. Rather, he offered them a way to work within these obligations — turning them in an opportunity to imitate Christ’s suffering and thus redeeming an unjust situation.

So when it comes to the New Testament’s instructions for women and slaves, I don’t think Piper and Reinke have made their case. You can’t say one is a product of its culture and the other is a timeless command. They are either both one or the other. We can’t have it both ways.

Taking a second look at the worst verse in the Bible


Theater at Ephesus

When Ship of Fools asked readers to submit nominations for worst verse in the Bible a few years back, there was a clear winner. Beating out passages on genocide, dismemberment, and all manner of inscripturated unpleasantries was this:

I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man; she must be silent.
–1 Timothy 2:12, NIV

For many complementarians, 1 Timothy 2 is the Discussion Killer. The Trump Card. It’s the clobber text that beats up all the other clobber texts and takes their lunch money.

Paul couldn’t have put it any more clearly, could he?

Except that the name of Paul’s letter is not “Mandatory Instructions for Churches Everywhere.” Paul set his sights elsewhere in 1 Timothy—namely, he was counseling a young pastor at the end of his rope.

Paul had instructed his protégé Timothy to take charge of the dysfunctional Christian community in Ephesus, a church Paul had planted years earlier. The assignment proved to be too much for the young disciple.

I visited Ephesus in 2005 while studying the spread of early Christianity in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). The trip offered another perspective on the “worst verse in the Bible.”

In Paul’s day, Ephesus was home to half a million people. It was a leading city of the Roman Empire. The population swelled for two weeks every year, during a giant festival to honor the city’s patron deity, Artemis.

Artemis was the goddess of fertility (among other things). Her priests were women and, as N.T. Wright observes, “they ruled the show and kept the men in their place.”

Artemis’ temple was said to be founded by the Amazons, a mythical group of female warriors who had little use for men, apart from the occasional need to procreate.

According to the Artemis legend, women were created first. Women were superior. Women called the shots. Artemis was mainly concerned with the welfare of women, which is why she promised to keep them safe in childbearing—no mean feat at a time when as many as 1 in 3 women died giving birth.

Men who wished to serve the goddess were free to do so… well, I say “free.” Actually, the cost could be rather steep. In return for the honor of service, Artemis required their manhood, quite literally.

New Testament scholar Catherine Clark Kroeger once described the initiation process as follows:

Males voluntarily castrated themselves and assumed women’s garments. A relief from Rome shows a high priest of Cybele [a closely related deity]. The castrated priest wears veil, necklaces, earrings and feminine dress. He is considered to have exchanged his sexual identity and to have become a she-priest.

It’s possible female converts in Ephesus came to Christianity straight from the Artemis cult. Can you imagine the difficulty they would’ve had learning to accept men in the church as their equals? Perhaps not unlike like the difficulty some men have accepting women as their equals today.

Before long, tensions might have boiled over. Church gatherings could have descended into chaos as some of the women announced they were created first and ought to call the shots. Timothy would have quickly reached the end of his rope trying to hold this fledgling community together.

So his mentor Paul wrote a letter. Reading that letter almost two thousand years later, we cannot hope to understand Paul’s advice without spending a little time in Ephesus.

Whatever the precise nature of the conflict, Paul was trying to correct a specific situation run amuck. So he prohibited Ephesian women from taking the reins of the Ephesian church, from usurping Timothy’s authority (as Paul’s surrogate), and from lording it over their brothers in Christ.

This interpretation may also help explain Paul’s otherwise bizarre reference to childbearing, which might just be be a direct challenge to Artemis:

But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
—1 Timothy 2:15

Don’t trust Artemis to look after you in childbirth, Paul was saying in effect, trust the risen Christ. 

If I’m right, then to conclude from 1 Timothy 2 that women are subordinate to men and therefore unfit to lead is to commit the very error Paul condemned in this passage. Only, this time the shoe is on the other foot.

Paul didn’t want women lording it over men, as Artemis had taught them to do. Nor would he have wanted men lording it over women. Remember, this is the same person who told the Galatians there is no “male and female” in Christ’s church.

If Paul were addressing a complementarian church today, where it was taught that women are inherently and forever subject to men, he may very well have written something like this:

I do not permit a man to teach or have authority over a woman; he must be quiet. For Eve was formed last, the pinnacle of creation. And Eve was not the one told to avoid from the forbidden tree; it was the man who was told and should have known better.

Sometimes harsh words are needed to correct an imbalance of power. That’s what we see in 1 Timothy 2, where Paul provides a short-term solution to a specific problem. In the long run, however, the only real solution is (you guessed it)…



Church of St. Mary the Virgin (5th century), Ephesus

A letter to my daughter

I originally posted this letter as part of Rachel Held Evans’ “Week of Mutuality,” a weeklong discussion of the egalitarian view of gender. This happens to be the view I hold after several years of, well, not seeing it this way. Some of the inspiration for this letter came from Micky DeWitt’s excellent post, “Fathers and Daughters.”  


Dear Elizabeth Lacey,

You are just over 21 months old, and you are overflowing with life. You’re just beginning to assert your independence—which is why your rain boots so often end up on the wrong feet, but heck if you don’t get them on anyway. (It’s also why you currently don’t want to hold my hand when crossing the street, but we’ll talk about that later.)

Your personality is starting to flourish, and can I just say… I love who you’re becoming. From chasing the dog around the living room to enthusiastically greeting everyone who walks by—which, let’s face it, is a trait you probably got from your mother.

You won’t read this letter for several more years, but a day will come when you and I will sit down, pull up this old blog (assuming they haven’t replaced the Internet with something else by then), and read.

For there will come a time, I’m sorry to say, when you’ll meet certain people who will try to steal your sense of boundless opportunity.

They will tell you that some roles in life aren’t for you, simply because you’re a woman. That your gender means you have to take a backseat. That you are forever consigned to be in the audience and not on the stage. Always a follower and never a leader.

They will tell you this is so because God—the same God we read about at bedtime—made it so. They will tell you that God made you inferior, subordinate, second-class.

Oh, not that they’ll use these exact words. (Well, they might use “subordinate.”) Instead, they’ll talk about it in cloaked language like “complementarity” and “submission.” But what they really mean is, your path to God runs through a man.

No matter how much you have to share, no matter how much wisdom and natural leadership God gave you, they will politely insist you can never serve in a position of authority over men. You can never be the one who points others to God because, well, that’s a man’s job.

I wish I didn’t have to prepare you this—and I wish even more that no one would ever try to tell you these things. But I want you to hear it from me before you hear it from them. Because there’s something else you need to know:

They are wrong.

They’re the only ones, not God, insisting on a world where only men can lead.

Pay no attention to them.

Remember, you’re a daughter of Eve, who was created from Adam’s side and not his feet. Eve may have been  Adam’s “helper,” but then all great leaders are those who serve. Besides, the Bible uses the exact same word—helper—to  describe God.

Our faith would not exist if it weren’t for women—noble, brave, strong women like Ruth. Deborah. Huldah. Esther. Mary. Anna. Priscilla. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who followed Jesus to the end—who showed more faith and courage than Jesus’ male disciples. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who led house churches and became apostles.

Our faith wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who went to the tomb while the disciples hid, who witnessed the resurrection first—and became the first to proclaim the good news. That’s right: women were apostles to the apostles.

So if anyone tries to tell you there are certain things you can’t do because of your gender, don’t listen. The sad truth is, they’ve forgotten God is in the business of overturning manmade hierarchies and power structures. They’ve forgotten that we worship a God who gave away power—who invites us to follow his example.

I’m not going to say you can do anything you want simply because you want to do it. There’s more to it than simple desire. After all, lots of little girls dream of becoming the first female president, but there can only be one.

You see, each of us has different gifts. Each of us is made for different opportunities. Time will tell what your unique gifts and opportunities are.

But know this: your gender does not determine what you’re capable of. There is nothing in this world that’s off-limits to you because you’re a woman. “Male and female” doesn’t count when it comes to membership, service, and leadership in the kingdom of God.

Whatever may come, I will always cheer you on as you embrace your unique gifts.


Dad (otherwise known as “Dada” and, on occasion,”not Mama”)

But the 12 apostles were all men…

To those who use the apostles’ gender as an argument against women being leaders in the church:

The twelve apostles were also all Jewish.  

I can only assume, then, that we should return to the “biblical” pattern of ethnic hierarchy as well.


For further reading, check out these helpful posts from Mimi Haddad and J.R. Daniel Kirk.

The other memorial day

J.R. Daniel Kirk is fast becoming one of my favorite theologians. He likes the Coen brothers, brews his own beer, and writes stuff like this.

There isn’t much I can say about the uniquely American blend of Christianity and patriotism that hasn’t already been said. (Not that I won’t try.)

Christianity and nationalism — whether it’s “American exceptionalism” or some other kind — do not mix, because Christianity is supposed to be about all nations.” Politicians like Kennedy and Reagan got it wrong when they equated America with the “city on a hill” mentioned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus didn’t assign this role to any one nation, but to his disciples everywhere.

Christianity ought to have an uneasy relationship with any national liturgy of holidays, feasts, and pledges because Christianity is by its very nature a counter-liturgy — an alternative to the cult of nationalism, whether the accent is ancient Roman or modern American.

As Kirk reminds us, the church has its own memorial day. We celebrate it “every time we take the bread and pass the cup.”

Our memorial day is the Eucharist, observed weekly in churches the world over. We commemorate one man laying down his life for the good of all, even for the good of his enemies. America’s Memorial Day celebration also commemorates those who laid down their lives — but who did so while making their enemies lay down their lives, too.

To celebrate either memorial day is to believe in the power of redemptive violence. But redemptive violence is entirely a matter of perspective.

Violence endured by the innocent CAN be redemptive — when they transform it into something else through their nonviolent response. But violence inflicted can never redeem.

Our redemption will not come until we lay down our arms and make peace. As Kirk writes, redemption comes only “by the blood of one who would not shed the blood of another.”

To sacrifice yourself without sacrificing anyone else — that is an event worth commemorating.

(But mostly I’m just annoyed at my neighbors who are still lighting off fireworks.)

That’s democracy for you . . .

Yesterday’s vote in North Carolina has been followed by all the usual (and predictable) punditry, from outrage to triumphalism. Supporters of Amendment 1 have rightly pointed out that in every state where it’s been put to a vote (31 and counting), a clear majority have voted to ban gay marriage. Whereas the eight states which have legalized gay marriage have all done so by judicial or legislative fiat.

The argument being that when democracy is allowed to run its course, gay marriage loses. Yay for democracy . . . right?

Regardless of which side you take in the gay marriage debate, let me propose that this fight-by-popular-vote is dangerous, self-serving, and profoundly misinformed. Especially for those who revere the founding fathers and the Constitution.

The United States is not a democracy. Nor was it ever meant to be one. To be sure, politicians on both sides have exploited and contributed to our national ignorance by hailing the virtues of “democracy” every time they’re in front of the cameras. Which is why we all need a history refresher.

The Constitution, revisited

In the late 1780s, after America’s first attempt at governance under the Articles of Confederation proved a disaster, the founding fathers returned to the drawing board and wrote the Constitution of the United States.

It was a bold, unprecedented, and highly controversial vision of government. In order to sell it to the public, three of the Constitution’s framers — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay — anonymously wrote the Federalist Papers. Their aim was to explain and defend this new form of government, which they insisted was neither monarchy nor democracy but a republic — a system of representative government.

Why is this important? And what does it have to do with a marriage amendment in North Carolina?

It matters because the kind of “majority rule” currently (and, in all likelihood, temporarily) embraced by opponents of gay marriage just so happens to be the exact opposite of what the founding fathers intended for this country.

Consider these excerpts on the perils of democracy from Federalist No. 10, written by James Madison, who is also known as the “Father of the Constitution.”

Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

To secure the public good and the private rights against the danger of [majority rule] is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.

Either the existence of the same passion or interest in a majority at the same time must be prevented, or the majority . . . must be rendered, by their number and local situation, unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.

Pure democracy . . . can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

In Federalist No. 51 —famous for its exploration of the doctrine of checks and balances, or “separation of powers” — Madison also addressed the importance of protecting minority rights against the tyranny of majority rule:

It is of great importance in a republic . . . to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.

Justice is the end [i.e. goal] of government. It is the end of civil society. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature.

Whereas under the form of government laid out by Madison’s Constitution . . .

Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so . . . will the more powerful factions or parties be induced to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.

In other words, direct democracy or “majority rule” was not what the founders had in mind because they knew that left to its own devices, the majority would invariably oppress and deprive the minority of its rights.

Traditional marriage advocates celebrate their string of ballot victories, including the latest in North Carolina, as if a simple majority vote is all the proof needed that gay marriage is bad for society.

But there’s a reason things like slavery, civil rights, and women’s suffrage weren’t put to a popular vote. There’s a reason why the U.S. Senate is structured so a minority of senators can thwart the legislative agenda of a simple majority. (There’s also a reason why senators weren’t directly elected by the public until the Seventeenth Amendment was ratified in 1913.)

In all likelihood, the founding fathers would have been horrified at the prospect of gay marriage.

But they would have been equally horrified at the way in which gay marriage opponents have advanced their agenda. “That’s democracy for you,” such opponents might say after their 31st ballot victory.

To which Madison and the other framers of the Constitution would say: “But that’s exactly why we didn’t give you direct democracy.”

What goes around . . .

There’s an even bigger consideration, to which Madison alludes near the end of Federalist No. 51. Majority rule is a fickle thing, as Republicans learned in 2006 and Democrats in 2010.

It’s in the majority’s best interest not to use their power to oppress the minority — if not for more virtuous reasons, then for the simple fact that they may not always be the majority.

Public opinion is shifting on gay marriage. Maybe not everywhere at the same pace, but it’s shifting all the same — and not in favor of “traditional marriage,” despite some overconfident claims to the contrary.

Today, the country is evenly split on gay marriage, with 50% in favor and 48% against. The National Organization for Marriage makes much of the fact that support is down three points from a year ago. But the larger trend is clearly not in their favor. Fifteen years ago, only a quarter of Americans supported gay marriage. That number has doubled in half a generation.

Opposition to gay marriage will almost certainly become a minority view by the end of this decade, if not sooner. Which should give pause to traditional marriage advocates who are currently using the brute force of majority rule to impose their will.

Someday, opponents of gay rights will be a distinct minority in this country, and they may suddenly find the tables turned. They may find their views (and their right to hold them) being put to a referendum.

Which, let me be clear, would be every bit as much a trampling of the Constitution as what they’re currently doing.

The Constitution was designed to protect the rights of the minority — whether it’s the gay couple who just wants to have access to the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals, or the evangelical who believes homosexuality is a sin against God and nature.

Either way, this “battle by referendum” is a lose-lose proposition.


Side note #1: I believe the Federalist Papers should be required reading for every American student. I’m grateful to my political science advisor in college, Philip Loy (who’s retiring this year), for making us read these important founding documents.

Side note #2: Another perspectives worth reading can be found here: “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation” by Rachel Held Evans.

Everybody brainwashes…

Christians do it. Atheists do it. Even people who are adamantly opposed to brainwashing their kids end up doing it — or letting someone else do it.

So says Jared Byas…

We will all “brainwash” our kids. We are mimetic; we imitate… I have talked to several friends who have felt tricked by religion into believing that things are black and white when they are often various shades of gray. They still love Jesus but they don’t want to do that to their children. A very noble goal. But in their attempt to protect their children from the deceit of the religious system, they often swing the pendulum the other way by “not indoctrinating” their children – which really means either allowing someone or something else to indoctrinate them… or indoctrinating them with a doctrine of “no doctrine.”

Indoctrination is a part of life. The question is WHAT we’ll indoctrinate our kids with — and how:

For our family, we have decided that we are Christians and that we will raise our children as Christians. But along with our personal beliefs and the Christian tradition, we will indoctrinate them with a Christian faith that (1) respects religious diversity, (2) respects Christian diversity, and (3) humbly accepts they might be wrong.

It’s a good model for all of us wondering how to pass our faith to our kids while at the same time encouraging them to think for themselves.

On his blog, Jared unpacks each of the three ideas above more deeply. Well worth reading.