Wednesday night I published an article on how women could look to Christ as an example of submission just as men can look to Christ as their example of headship. The following morning I woke up and watched a firestorm erupt over a long quote from Douglas Wilson published in a prominent blog on the topic of wives submitting to husbands. Much of the discussion focused on the opening lines.
“In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.”
Wilson’s defenders argue that people are simply getting bent out of shape by the colorful language in the second two sentences of this paragraph. However, there is a more dangerous concept which lead Wilson to pen those two sentences. It is the concept found in the last sentence of this paragraph and which blossoms in the final paragraphs of the passage. Authority and submission run through the fabric of the universe, and men should be in authority while women should be in submission. He believes this concept applies to the bedroom. Excluding the marital rape discussion, Wilson advocates extending male dominance and female submission into the bedroom as if that were God’s will when scripture actually focuses on mutuality and unity there.
While others like Quivering Daughters have been exposing what male authoritarianism cloaked in Christianity has done to daughters in terms of spiritual and emotional abuse, Wilson shows us the twisted view of sexuality this idea leads to.
The passage begins with “A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.” The conclusion of this passage, and the conclusion of a very insensitive chapter 7 on Rape in his book Fidelity reads,
“True authority and true submission are therefore an erotic necessity. When authority is honored according to the word of God it serves and protects — and gives enormous pleasure. When it is denied, the result is not “no authority,” but an authority which devours.”
Here he takes the Ephesians 5 analogy of marriage representing Christ’s headship over the church and stretches it to say that men have authority in everything and women should be submissive in everything. Making an analogy an overarching principle is dangerous. Stretching this analogy into the bedroom robs the most intimate act of marriage of the mutual love and enjoyment it is supposed to contain.
This brings us to a crucial passage in the Bible for understanding the how and purpose of sexual union, I Corinthians 7. Internet Monk succinctly and accurately applies this passage to the Wilson controversy.
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1Cor 7:4, NASB)
Even if we were to grant the point that God’s design is for husbands to be the authorities in the home, and women are to submit to their leadership, nowhere, nowhere does Scripture link the sexual relationship to these concepts. From the beginning, Genesis 2:22-25, the sexual relationship is about complete mutuality, about cleaving together, about two becoming one, evidencing that a man and woman are “bone of bone and flesh of flesh.”
The Song of Songs, an entire book of erotic love poetry, bears this out. Those who’ve commented on the TGC post have pointed out that there is no “authority and submission” in Song of Songs, but two people who take turns initiating and responding to the other with passionate sexual feeling.
No clearer statement of this can be found than Paul’s words in 1Corinthians 7:4 — “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
The Wilsons are simply wrong in stating otherwise.
Sadly when Wilson deals with this passage we see how his authoritarianism impacts his hermeneutics. Chapter 12 entitled “Sexual Solutions” serves as his commentary on the passage. His view of sexuality keeps him from seeing the plain meaning of the text which is that both husband and wife possess equal authority and the focus should be on serving and pleasing each other. The husband does not have more of a right to be fulfilled than the wife. Instead out of love, their deepest desire should be to delight and please each other.
His view of headship and responsibility keep him so focused on the word “authority” that he misses the word “llikewise.” This leads him to make interesting statements in exploring the passage like “He is responsible for his authority over her, but he is also responsible for hers over him.” (p.128) Later he makes an extremely self centered statement by saying, “This means he must love her sexually as he wishes.” (p.134) In between these comments he speaks of the man’s authority being one of teaching her how to be creative in the bedroom to please and serve him sexually. Her “authority” means he must tell her if he looks at porn or has an affair. There is no mention of serving and pleasing his wife, and no idea that she should or could take initiative or authority and lead in the bedroom to enjoy her husband and lead him in delighting her.
Paul clearly equivocates between the authority a husband has over his wife’s body and the authority a wife has over her husband’s body. Missing the equality and mutuality that should mark a couple’s lovemaking misses the point of the passage. Sadly Doug Wilson’s authoritarianism permeates his book Fidelity and leads him to impose his view on scripture rather than let scripture speak to him.