“Women are Dangerous”

“Women should feel like they are dangerous. Of course they are dangerous. And the most dangerous are those who don’t understand what the danger is.” – Douglas Wilson, response to letters on his blog

Far be it from me to take issue with Doug Wilson. However, I will risk a nit to pick. The above quote is complicatedly a response to a commenter who linked to the following TGC article:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/women-not-problem/

Where Wilson’s takes exception is in point three. I would like to take exception to everyone involved. The point I will be trying to make is that this particular issue is not black and white but far murkier, and let you tire of hearing me say it, requiring of discernment. 

Note to the reader: I will be taking this from my specific male perspective. I will not be taking pains to balance out pronouns, I will trust the reader to make mental adjustments as needed.

A Few Thoughts Going In

The issue at hand is a fairly common one. It has been raised recently very loudly by Amiee Byrd, Rachel Green Miller, and to a tactful degree here by Melissa Kruger. The devil in the details is a real devil. Men and women have sinned with one another. That simple fact, and temptation always hangs over the entire discussion. And it is a very loud point, simply because when the sin is exposed it is exposed explosively. What I would want to direct the attention of the reader to is that particular gaudy display drowns out the baseline. I would wager, or desperately wish to wager, that there are a great many friendships between men and women that never even play footsie with sin and go un-noticed simply because there is nothing to see. 

There is always an element of risk involved in any friendship. The potential for being hurt is always present. The risk is higher in male female friendships. In general sexual attraction can and often does rear it’s head. However, I would maintain that the presence of a risk does not automatically negate the potential benefits of the friendship. Risk is something that is assessed all the time and calculated. Driving a car, going out in public, drinking alcohol, all of these are risks that are taken by humanity all the time. They are also risks that do not require a lot of hand wringing and cold sweats. I would posit secondly, following Lewis, that friendship is not entirely a matter of choice. As Lewis has written (And I would not dream of using the entire quote again so soon) we do not choose our friends but they are chosen for us by a Grand Master of the Ceremonies.

Not to try and needle but I do consider my friends who are women to be an important preordained part of my life. I would not think the way I do without Amanda, I would never have gotten outside of my comfort zones without Carol. Julie forced me to study intently, and T.S. drives me to write. Male friends push and grow me in other ways but these parts of my life were cultivated indispensably without these women. 

Wives are Not to play the Roles of Jesus or the Holy Spirit

Additionally my friends that are women emotionally support in ways that friends who are not a spouse can do. But specifically in ways that female friends can only do. It is not fair for my wife to bear all emotional burdens that I possess. Friends are a shoulder to shoulder relationship they help bear emotional baggage. It is not only unfair to make a wife the sole recipient and carrier of the sum total of the husbands burdens, additionally it is unhelpful because she has her own blindspots and loyalties. Friends can help and counsel above and beyond a single spouse.

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls,

    but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14

“Without counsel plans fail,

    but with many advisers they succeed.” – Proverbs 15:22

“For by wise guidance you can wage your war,

    and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” – Proverbs 24:6

I will grant that more than likely these were written by a king with entirely male counselors. But it should be borne in mind that we are to exegete the principal of a proverb not try and make a hard and fast rule from a ancient cultural norms that are no longer in effect today. The point is that a broad range of trusted counselors is a vital thing. And insight from good friends who are for you is a benefit not only to the individual but also for a marriage.

A final note on this point. I categorically deny the popular vernacular of an emotional affair. This term is sloppy and nonsensical. It is entirely subjective, I have yet to hear what precisely constitutes an emotional affair. The definition is totally up to an offended party. By the standard I have seen applied often I should be considered the emotional playboy of the reformed world. We have a term for when a man is given over sinfully in his mind to a woman, lust. He desires to have a woman who is not his wife. He is in sin plain and simple. But a man who has a deep friendship with a woman and they actively have healthy boundaries is not an affair, emotional or otherwise. It is a friendship. Friendships do not exist outside of deep emotional bond.

To the Meat of the Argument

The problem with the quote above from Wilson is it’s absolutist nature, which is stated very pithily. Now knowing Wilson, I am sure that is the provocative route he intended to take, and if given the opportunity would be more than happy to, “become inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity”** in explaining the nuance of the matter. However, without clarification we can safely assume that this is a succinct statement of his general thinking on the subject. I intend therefore to proceed taking the quote at it’s face value

What is being advocated for by Wilson and against from Kruger is the Billy Graham/Mike Pence Rule or whatever you want to call it. Namely that a man should never be alone with a woman, including in public (this includes private forms of communication such as phone conversations, text, email, etc.. Kruger objects to the rule on the following grounds

“Be careful, though, that you don’t communicate to women that they are the problem.

A pastor once proudly told me his purity plan: “When I’m attracted to a woman, I treat her terribly.” (I’m not making this up.) He enacted this misguided plan in his ministry; I witnessed the painful effects.

I also know some elders who practice a policy of always copying someone else on email correspondence with women. While you may be trying to communicate “I’m above reproach,” it often communicates “You are dangerous.” – Melissa Kruger, Women are Not the Problem

If this were normative then it would be concerning. As I said above I tend to think the loud abnormalities are what are most visible and the reality is all of the quiet healthy friendships. Wilson supports the rule on a similar basis assuming the normality of women in general being dangerous. I would submit that both of these are unhelpful positions and only succeed in muddying the waters. 

It should be clear by now that I support “co-ed” friendships. Problems arise when hard lines are drawn where Scripture doesn’t draw them. As Wilson has pointed out when God created the Universe he made a world of yes with the one no being very closely guarded. That no has grown into the multiple, and one of the historical temptations has always been to outdo God by adding to his list. The Pharisees did so in Jesus’ time with the verbal law, and the legalists did so in recent memory. The attraction of creating law where God has not is laziness. Rather than having to do the hard work of discernment, growing in wisdom, being sanctified, you just get a list of forbidden yeses that have previously or potentially could be abused.

Christians are not called to either be legalists or libertines of wild abandon. Sanctified living requires a lot of very hard work. Self control is one of those fruits of the Spirit that has been ignored for far too long under the auspices of authenticity. No friendship can survive if one party, or worse both, surrender to complete emotional anarchy.

The second problem is that Wilson’s summation implies a larger percentage of guilt for women should adultery take place. Basically a refreshed version of, “It’s the woman that leads the man astray” Men are not innocent parties that fall into lust or adultery. Women don’t, necessarily, have to be doing anything, if a man is primed to sin and he does then he alone is guilty of his sin. To make a point, my friends who are women are Christians and are modest, this does not mean unattractive. One of them in particular could wear a homemade gingham gown with ample coverage for her ankles, and a bonnet on her head and man would still be tempted to lust. The guilt would be entirely on the man who failed to resist temptation. As Wilson himself is fond of saying guilt doesn’t run 50/50 it’s 100/100. Women can not be blamed or labeled as dangerous for simply existing. 

You are not that Important

One further thing to consider. This topic is generally held on a broad evangelical basis. Yet all of the direction and examples are pulled almost exclusively from failures from previously “successful” leaders operating, frequently operating on a hight level. For a Doug Wilson a rule like this can make sense. He is a guy with a target on his back, accusations are constantly lobbed at him in all forms from inside and outside the faith. A honey trap would not be beyond the pale set up by a conniving enemy. And it seems obvious that someone in his, or Mike Pence, or Billy Graham, or Ravi Zacharias, or name anyone else who is in a highly visible position should strive to live above reproach. 

The issue, on the ground, I wish to make is simply this. The average person is not that important in the grand scheme of things. Ego makes us think all eyes are on us. The reality is, most of culture does not notice or care about the vast majority of us. And those who do I would like to make the the suggestion are involved in the sin of gossip and should be ignored. If a woman at my church spies me out at Hammer having a pint with T.S. and begins circulating this information in our small group. I would be equally irritated if her objection were either the pint or the woman who is not my wife. It is none of her business. Her Christian duty is to come up to me and find out what is what, not go scurrying to the church with something she thinks is super juicy. And if something were truly fishy then Church discipline is required, not a rumor mill.

But more than likely, no one will notice. I am simply not that important. Why then would I plateau my friendship with T.S. on the off chance that someone may see me and really worry that things are amiss.

Where Women are Dangerous

The bigger threat to the western evangelical church is not pastors ending their careers with illicit affairs. It is women who are grasping and grabbing for power that is not theirs according to Scripture. In this sense I would take Wilsons quote as absolutely correct.

“Women should feel like they are dangerous. Of course they are dangerous. And the most dangerous are those who don’t understand what the danger is.” – Douglas Wilson, response to letters on his blog

Unofficial eldership for women***, frequently called “pillars of the church” seems like a good way to include women in your church. They are available, many are theologically savvy, they want to serve… Until you remember, as Wilson recently reminded: It is better to obey than to sacrifice. I can not think of a church that made a hard left turn into theological liberalism that did not first shift from the Biblical commands on male leadership. 

A prime example of this kind of danger that grows is laid out in Beth Allison Barr’s forthcoming book The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. In her NPR interview Barr explains she made her shift when she was refused the authority she wanted in the church she was a member of. And now…

“What we see arise in the early 20th century is a doctrine called inerrancy. And essentially what it says is if you do not believe the Bible literally, and every aspect of the Bible literally, then that means you do not believe the Bible. The problem with inerrancy is that it says you have to read the Bible the way these men in the early part of the 20th century read the Bible. And if we don’t read it that way, then that essentially means that we are not biblically faithful. So they’ve made patriarchy part of the gospel of Christ.” Beth Allison Barr****

This is a prime example of a leftward shift that should concern Christians. The battle for inerrancy was a pitched one that will have to be fought again. And lest you think I am making a slippery slope argument I would remind that it is an informal fallacy which simply means it is a rhetorical shorthand that is the equivalent of giving the correct algebraic answer without showing the worksheet, and also there are slopes that are slippery.

Conclusion

I am tempted to close by quoting Obi Wan Kenobi, “Only a Sith deals in Absolutes.” But that is an absolute statement and I’m not entirely sure Wilson wouldn’t have too much fun come next November with a Sith robe. The Wilson summary is pity and direct but is too broad in both it’s scope and commendation.

Having women who are friends can be a great asset. The concern I hold is that the middle ground of friendship is ignored for the two poles of: Romantic sin or UnBiblical Authority. And quite frankly I think the problem is compounded by skewering the focus toward the potential adulterous sins and ignoring the grasping and grabbing for power. or as Uncle Screwtape would say:

“The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers when there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.” – C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters

*Oh go on you say, well here it is: “We think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the date of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to ever group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. Is is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

**Paraphrase from Stephen Fry

***Last year Matt Chandler at the Village Church announced that women are now called in to “oversee” and speak into all elder meetings.

****https://www.npr.org/2021/04/15/987552105/the-making-of-biblical-womanhood-tackles-contradictions-in-religious-practice

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