Women’s Wednesdays: A Response to TGC’s ‘Will Women Be Forced to Register for the Military Draft?

Opening Note: This post is not intended to explore the morality on any level of the draft itself. It is intended to engage with the question of whether the draft should, if employed, be restricted to men only, or include both men and women equally.
I read the Gospel Coalition’s blog, and am often very encouraged and edified by it. Equally, I also often disagree with their posts. Unsurprisingly, many of these posts tend to be on the subject of gender. Usually I just sort of move on, but a recent post by Joe Carter called ‘Will Women Be Forced to Register for the Military Draft?‘ moved me to do more. Not only do I disagree with this particular post, I find it rather insulting, both as a thinker and as a woman. As such, I wanted to post a response to it.

Carter’s argument, if it can be so called, boils down to this:
A poll taken in 2013 found that nearly sixty percent of Americans believe women should be eligible for the draft. Women favor the draft at a much higher rate than men (61 percent to 35 percent), and Democrats favor the draft much more than Republicans (80 percent to 50 percent). Overall, 59 percent of those polled said women should be drafted.
A likely reason for the increased support is a foolish and historically ignorant belief that the military draft is an outdated institution and will never be used in the future. While the draft has indeed been dormant for forty-two years, it is likely to return during America’s next large-scale conflict. The reason the draft will be needed is obvious: relative to some other nations, the U.S. is woefully lacking in manpower… That is why many people have no qualms about supporting “gender equality” by allowing women to be drafted: It doesn’t affect them directly. They seem to have no concerns about forcing their granddaughters or great-granddaughter to be subjected to the horrors of war. As long as it doesn’t directly affect them, they are allowed to be seen as embracing ‘equality.'”

To summarize, Carter argues that the more likely reason women (and men) support the draft is because we don’t think it will ever be used. Carter can think of no other, perhaps more intellectually honest, reasons for supporting the draft for women than a desire “to be seen as embracing ‘equality'” without consequence (in an anonymous survey, no less?)

For me, two reasons come immediately to mind, although there may certainly be others. The first is that women have thought through the implications of being registered in the draft, and concluded that they find laughable the idea that their sex somehow disqualifies them from wanting to defend– to the death if necessary– what they believe to be valuable and worthwhile. Certainly this is where my own feelings lie. Certainly I imagine I would struggle with many qualms and fears if faced with the harsh reality of defending my values in a contest of the magnitude of war– but I don’t doubt that many of the young men who have in the past been drafted to defend their country felt the exact same qualms and fears I would. Though the women-and-children-first, ‘men at the front lines’ mentality that has been the currency of the patriarchy for centuries upon centuries is deeply ingrained (it’s a huge movie trope, for example), I categorically deny that there is something intrinsic in me that would rather be defended and sacrificed for than to defend and sacrifice. I feel a  jealous ferocity rise in me at the idea of my husband or children being attacked, for example, that I defy any man to exceed, and I am confident that my fellow women experience the same feelings.

A second explanation is the notion that women don’t want to be conscripted and do hope that the draft is never employed in their lifetime or that of their daughters, but they nonetheless feel that it is just and necessary that the draft legally include both genders. Even if no noble fire of courage and self-sacrifice kindles in them at the notion of defending their home and country, they acknowledge that their feelings aren’t a good gauge for what is legally just or morally ethical. Thus, while hoping that the draft need not be employed, they still conscientiously believe on an intellectual level that the draft should include both men and women.

However, even if we grant Carter his ill-defended premise that women self-evidently should not be included in the first line of a nation’s defense, that all the men of a country should sacrifice themselves to defend their women, he provides in his own post a defeat of his conclusion that women should thus be excluded from the draft. This defeat lies in the numbers he provides.

Carter writes,
“Currently, the armed forces is comprised of about 2 million men and women, both on active duty and in the reserves. The potential pool of draft eligible young men (ages 18-25) on file with the Selective Service is approximately 16 million.
In contrast, China has an available manpower of 750 million—more than twice the entire population of the United States. They also have over 100 million draft eligible men, with nearly 20 million men in China reaching military age every year. Although it has less manpower than China, Russia also has about 45 million men of draft age.
If we were to face either or both of those countries in violent conflict, the draft would need to be implemented in the U.S. on a broad scale. Having already shown that drafting women has popular support and having no legal basis to exclude anyone based on gender, young women would be drafted in numbers equal to young men.”

What Carter is saying here is that the United States currently has an eligible pool of 18 million people, tops, in the event of a war. If that war were with China or Russia, they would be colossally outnumbered. This ‘first line of defense’ of American manpower a jest, then! Refusing to double your available forces is a foolish way of defending your women even if defending your women is acknowledged to be the goal. It strikes me not as noble and self-sacrificing to tell women to stay at home hoping that a military of 18 million will stand up against a military of 850 million, but as blind and self-aggrandizing. If you truly want us to be defended, let us stand beside you. Not all of us will live, but at least we won’t have sat at home watching you be slaughtered in a foolish and misguided attempt at chivalry that ultimately does us no practical good at all.

Georgia Book Reviews: Partners in Christ

Book: Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism, by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.*

Summary: A case for being an evangelical who believes in the authority of Scripture and isn’t complementarian.

Recommended By: A rather mixed review on the Gospel Coalition blog. You might not be surprised to learn that I agreed with a lot more of Stackhouse’s points than the TGC blogger…

My Thoughts: I think what I most appreciated about this book was the ‘middle way’ approach Stackhouse takes. He critiques flaws and too-glib arguments in both complementarian and feminist readings of Scripture, and his approach provoked me to take more honest looks at the ‘sticky’ passages regarding the roles of women in Scripture. Although I didn’t always agree with his interpretations– for example, I find a plain reading of Ephesians 5 to be much less supportive of male leadership roles than Stackhouse does even within it’s historical context (a blog subject for another day!)– I appreciate the chance to think critically and consider new perspectives on these passages.

Stackhouse presents the argument that New Testament norms in gender were adapted to their historical context, much in the way the sexual transgression laws of the Old Testament represented not God’s ultimate best standards, but his patience to meet hard-hearted humanity where they were at in their cultural surroundings. This isn’t a particularly ground-breaking argument, but Stackhouse’s approach to it is unique and moderate. His ‘model’ for best synthesizing and understanding the Scripture’s teaching on gender is as follows:
– Principle #1: “That men and women are equal in dignity before God.”
– Principle #2: “Since some things matter more than others, lesser things sometimes must be sacrificed in the interest of the greater. What matters most to God, it seems, is the furtherance of the gospel message.”
-Principle #3: We have “the Christian liberty to give up precisely some of the freedoms won for us in Christ– again, for the sake of a higher good.”
Stackhouse argues that Scripture presents a model of doubleness– affirming certain patriarchal practices and attitudes of the day, while at the same time– sometimes in the same breath– offering a taste, a breath, a reminder of the equality and unity of men and women. Although I don’t always agree with his interpretations or the broader framework he proposes, I think his approach to the task of forming a coherent interpretation from a widely varied body of Scriptural teaching on gender is wise and can be learned from: he is committed to not using ‘pet’ texts from murky passages to support his preconceived views, but instead trying to form a theology that most nearly agrees with the most clear teachings from the broadest passages on the subject. As I work to form a Biblical theology of gender, a task for which I most certainly find myself in flux and often in deep water, I appreciate this wise approach to interpreting, and I pray I can humbly and wisely approach Scripture in a similar way as I work to understand the sometimes-thorny issues surrounding gender and the word of God.

A final point I find very worth considering comes in this quote: “Indeed, as Howard Marhsall pointedly suggests, the very term complementarian may be nonsense: two classes of people are equally capable, but certain leadership roles are reserved to just one of those classes, yet everything else can be done by members of either class– what is ‘complementary’ about that arrangement?” I read this put another way on a blog post (which I’ve unfortunately lost track of since so will have to paraphrase from a very rough memory): “If the positions of pastor and church leader are closed to women by nature of their God-given roles, what positions within the church are correspondingly closed to men? Should men not serve in the nursery? Help with the dishes after a potluck? Offer support and advice to someone making a decision? In what sense do complementarians understand women’s ‘ezer‘ role to be distinct from an man offering their gifts of service and help within the church, such that we could say that man was ‘usurping’ a woman’s role?” Without a coherent answer to this, we are not really discussing women as ‘complementary’, but merely restricted.

*Book linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.

Ok Seriously

One more post on the Target gender-desegregation hoopla. Because I’m really frustrated and kind of horrified at the things people are saying.* I read this post by Matt Walsh because some of my Facebook friends ‘like’ his page (although I did decide to hide all posts from him in future because I need to live my life not constantly frustrated about this.) Anyways.

I have two sons who are into a broad variety of things, including dolls, construction vehicles, dance parties, and reading. I don’t have a daughter, so I can’t speak to what she would be like, although I remember being a little girl who loved biology (National Geographic wildlife specials all the way), fat novels, playing in the woods, and riding bikes and playing Red Rover with the neighbourhood kids. Chances are you have a similar story. You loved Barbies, climbing trees, and those foam 3D puzzles of architecture. You loved the Hardy Boys, card games, and a stuffed frog you took to bed with you every night even when you were way too old for it. None of these things was cause for much comment. Now, I’m not saying there were no problems with the expectations on kids in the past, of course, but the truth is that the toy aisle has gotten more gender-segregated in the last few decades.
The thing is this: toy gender segregation is not about biblical manhood and womanhood. It’s about money. Toymakers, broadly, don’t give a plugged nickel whether their toys encourage girls to be nice, pretty, and domestic, and boys to be tough, athletic, and spatial.** They do, again broadly, care about their bottom line. If you can get siblings to play with different toys, because one of the siblings is a boy and two are girls, you’ve just sold that many more toys. If boys and girls can’t play together in groups because boys and girls don’t play the same group games, you’ve sold that many more toys. If, however, kids can happily play group games, pretend games, building toys, et al. in non-gender-specific ways, toymakers don’t get to divide their markets into smaller, more lucrative categories.
Why get into a righteous froth on behalf of toymakers’ moneymaking categories? I talked a bit in my last post about how most of the toy segregations don’t make sense and are actually discouraging the kinds of things we want to see in godly men and women. Let’s go over it one more time. If your little girl plays with dinosaurs, wonderful– she’s cultivating a sense of joy and wonder in God’s creation. If your little boy plays dolls, wonderful– he’s practicing to be the kind of father who’s there, one-on-one with his kids, teaching them the truth as they stand and sit and walk. If your daughter loves hockey, perfect– she’s set on a path for enjoying the physical form she’s been given, stewarding her body and health well, and learning to cooperate with others. If your son is dazzled by ballet, perfect– he’s getting set to grow into a man who appreciates the beauty and creativity of art and enjoys God’s gift of music and dance as ways to praise him and communicate with each other. None of these things conflict in any way with Biblical categories of manhood and womanhood expressed within marriages and churches. None of these things have the slightest thing to do with sexual orientation or transgenderism. It’s a crying shame to see people– parents, even!– acting as if it’s somehow bad to let kids freely roam the toy aisles without a big sign insisting that what they like is for the other gender. It is also startlingly illogical. Surely letting kids like what they like is doing the precise opposite of encouraging gender confusion, by telling our little girls and boys that there are many ways to be a girl and many ways to be a boy, and in all that beautiful diversity, there is no need for one to long to be something other than what she is, something other than what he is: a unique person who loves, say, science experiments, Lego Star Wars, and paper doll kits, and is just right exactly the way they are.
*People are using words like ‘sissifying’ and ‘pussifying’ to describe this move, because A) this has anything to do with anybody being tough? and B) thanks for showing clearly with your word choice that yes, people do still think that female=weak and useless, so we DO need to break down these gender stereotypes; sorry Matt Walsh, when you say “Nobody ever said that girls can’t be strong or boys can’t be gentle” your own crowd is right there giving you the lie…) 
**Which, BTW, not Biblical criteria at all. That’s just culture and tradition talking.

A Quick Crash Course…

in why I write about gender stereotyping and feminism.

When Target makes a decision that allows kids to enjoy whatever toys they are drawn to without feeling as though they are making the ‘wrong’ choice, and a big crowd of people hop onto their Facebook page to tell them they are denying our God-ordained genders, kowtowing to the ‘transbullies’, and leading America further into the ‘depraved’ dark hole it’s already in. GUYS. God didn’t give Adam and Eve each a pile of approved toys. Kids are also not born with any particular proclivity to cars/blocks/actions figures vs. kitchen sets/baby dolls/pink dress up. None of these things are sexual. None of these things are inherently gendered. None of these things are treated in the Bible’s discussion of gender, which instead focuses on things like honour, servant-heartedness, and love. Those are things I can do and be while moving heavy rocks to build a wall for my garden– so why not a little girl playing with construction toys? Those are things my husband can do and be while cuddling our little boy before bedtime and singing him a lullaby– so why not a little boy playing with a doll? These were things Jesus exemplified while heading up a bread and fish meal for a big crowd– so why not a little boy playing kitchen?

What I’m getting at is, when you’re upset about the breakdown of gender divides that do not exist in any way, shape, or form in the Bible, and invoking God to do it, you’re doing it wrong. You’re gypping a bunch of kids in the process. It hurts nobody to let kids like what they like without judgement. It will help kids, to feel free to explore and learn with a broader range of toys and games. It will help kids by letting them feel more confident in their choices and preferences. Putting extra-Biblical rules and restraints on little children is exactly the sort of thing the Bible frowns very strongly on. Unlike letting your daughter play with Avengers action figures and your son wear fairy wings, on which subject the Bible is utterly silent.

(Or maybe I just read the headline wrong, and Target actually replaced its whole toy section with a squad of evil child-corruptors handing out sexual literature? No? Then let me close with this handy flowchart:)


The Manly Church

Today I want to talk a little bit about the common charge heard in Conservative/complementarian circles that today’s church is ‘feminised’, springboarding off this article from Christianity Today called “Act Like Men: What It Means to Fight Like a Man“, subtitled, Men, is [sic] your life characterised by courage, strength, and love?

Here’s how the article starts: “One of the reasons many churches struggle is they’re not a friendly place for men. Think about the worship service at your church. More than likely, there’s a lot of talk about loving each other, but not much about fighting against sin or fighting for each other. There’s holding hands when we sing, but not much locking arms as we get marching orders for the mission.”

The article goes on to cite passages like 2 Timothy 4:7 (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race…”), Ephesians 6 (“Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil…so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.”), and 1 Peter 5:8 (“Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”)

You may not be surprised to find that I take issue with this. Here’s why: what they are talking about is not feminisation. It is just plain weak theology and vague experientialism– and I refuse to accept that as inherent to my gender. “Is your church all about lovey-dovey pop-psychology stuff, with no serious, difficult looks at sin and struggle to be seen? LADIES.”

Those passages referenced above? Are inspired Scripture intended for the whole of the church, not ‘Notes from the Men’s Manual of Being a Good Christian’. Battle language is part of our life as Christians; warring against the flesh, fleeing temptation, standing firm against the flaming darts of the enemy, being alert and watchful are the territory of every Christian. Being “characterised by courage, strength, and love”? Two-thirds of that dictum are in my blog title referencing Proverbs 31, the excellent wife.

I have always loved John Piper’s description of “strong complementarian women” as having “massive steel in their backs, and theology in their brains.” By all means, let us call churches to draw from the richness, depth, and strength of Scripture in their meetings instead of relying on niceness to save us. Let us face the darkness of our sin, let us ask the Spirit for self-control, endurance, and discipline along with our love, kindness, and gentleness– and let all of us do this without drawing a line down the middle for gender, because that line is not written into God’s Word. Let us not, however, make the mistake of calling a theologically-weak, feel-good, standardless church ‘feminised’. Because, I beg your pardon, but that ain’t my femininity.

The Great Against the Powerless

Sir Robert: “The other one is this. It’s from a slightly older source. It is this: you shall not side with the great against the powerless.”
Member of Parliament: “Mr. Speaker, point of order.”
Sir Robert: “I am on my feet.”
Member of Parliament: “Will you yield?”
Sir Robert: “I will not yield, Mr. Speaker. You shall not side with the great against the powerless. Have you heard those words, gentlemen? Do you recognize their source? From that same source, I add this injunction. It is this: what you do to the least of them you do to me. Now, now, gentlemen…”

-Excerpt from The Winslow Boy

I was recently asked why I write about women’s issues, why I make it one of my interests and passions. My answer was twofold. One reason I wrote about in the past: I feel that misogyny is as much and more of a threat to what complementarians hold dear as gender blurring. The other is summarised beautifully by the above quote.

In the beginning of time, God created humans, without sin, in beautiful harmony, with binary gender, with love and relationship at the heart of what it is to be human. But we sinned. Our relationship with God was broken, and by extension our relationships amongst each other became broken. Ashamed but arrogant, humanity has been trying to make ourselves look better than we are ever since. Genocides, bullying, social climbing and materialistic greed, self-righteousness, self-harming, an obsessive pursuit of physical beauty or physical strength, “in” crowds and outcasts, unhealthy competition– so much of what is sick in our world stems from the deep underlying knowledge of our fallen condition and our futile efforts to secure our standing without the sacrifice of Christ.

One way this manifests is in the strong– whether socially, financially, physically, what have you– using their strength to oppress the weak instead of to protect them.

God calls his people to protection of the disenfranchised, disadvantaged, and forgotten. This value was embedded deeply in the moral code of the Mosaic law. Over and over in the prophetic judgements against Israel is the refrain of their callous heart towards the poor and needy in their land. As this value relates in particular to women, 1 Peter 3:7 specifically enjoins husbands to show honour to the weaker vessel.

In a rightly ordered world, women, physically weaker in terms of sexual dimorphism, pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and menstruation, would only be protected and honoured by men. This is not so. When we look at human history, we see that across cultures, across eras, across belief systems, women have been oppressed. Women have been denied protection under the law, we have been denied education, we have been denied sexual agency*. We have been subjected to physical alterations**, we have been denied employment and financial independence. We have been told our minds are weaker, our emotions hysterical, our bodies shameful. We have been denied dignity and a public voice.

Some will suggest this is a ‘victim mentality’ and that men suffer at the hands of women as well.  Of course they do; sin is not restricted to one gender. Individual women do great wrong against individual men. However, I strongly argue that the systemic, institutionalised oppression of men by women has been very rare if not unheard of in human history, and is likely to remain that way, given sinful human nature which sides with the strong and oppresses the weaker.

Perhaps I am overzealous in my commitment to women’s rights. However, I think it prudent as a Christian to err on the side of being overzealous for the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Certainly being oppressed does not make one a saint, and the oppressed can be greedy, selfish, self-pitying, manipulative, and so on. But the sympathies of our Lord routinely fall on their side nonetheless, and I should prefer to do the same, in as balanced and Scriptural a way as I can. It is the opposite of what sinful nature would have us do: shut up and side with the strong, protect ourselves, ingratiate ourselves, cling to our own comfort, and try to get in on the benefits the strong are reaping.

Secular feminists frequently hold forth the hope that the work of feminism will eventually bring about a better world, one of equality for women. I hope the church rises ever closer to that standard, but I have not much hope for the fallen world to get there; not as it is now. However, one day the risen Redeemer Christ, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, will come back and make all things right. Until then, “You shall not side with the great against the powerless”– and “What you do to the least of them you do to me.”

*From genital mutilation to child brides to rape and sex trafficking to sexual exploitation in advertising and media.


**From footbinding and neck rings to corsets and plastic surgery.

Complementarianism and Natural Leaders

The other weekend, I was involved in a discussion about whether complementarianism was based on fundamental characteristics of men and women. The argument I was opposing ran something like this: men in general have personalities and intrinsic qualities better suited to leadership positions, which is why God assigns them as natural leaders (not just in the church and in the home, but in business, politics, and other secular spheres as well.) Now, as is common in a group discussion, nobody really gets to explain their points to the fullest, so I wanted to sit down and write out my point of view in full, for my own sake and for the interest of anyone else who reads it.

Aside from the scientific evidence* and my personal experience (i.e. seeing a pretty even spread of personality characteristics across my circles of acquaintanceship), the main reason I disagree with this argument is because I think it actually undermines the entire position of complementarity (ironically enough, since the people who hold to deep intrinsic differences as the reason for complementarity would intend to uphold it). There are three ways in which I think this argument undermines complementarianism.

First, it borrows a leaf from the egalitarian position that a person’s talents and characteristics would be the strongest influencer to God in determining who should be given which tasks among his people. But in looking at Scripture, I don’t see evidence of this. I see the God who chose stuttering Moses as the spokesperson to a power-mad Pharaoh, insignificant David as the most important king of Israel, the prostitute Rahab and the foreigner Ruth as key players in the line of the promised Messiah, Christ-hating Paul as the great missionary of the early church. We serve a God who delights to use the weak to do what we would humanly assign to the strong. 1 Corinthians 1 leaves us in no doubt of that: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”Now, this is not to say that God never uses people’s natural talents and inclinations to work His purposes; of course he does. I merely wish to point out that it is a misrepresentation of God to assume that that would be as important to Him as it is to us. God does use people’s talents. He also uses them in spite of their weaknesses.

Second, it demeans the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit within the Trinity. As complementarians, we understand complementing roles to be a reflection of the complementing roles within the Trinity. We affirm that while God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit are the same in essence and divinity, there is within the Trinity a hierarchy in which Christ submits in everything to the Father and the Spirit is subjected to the Son’s authority. If we are to follow this parallel through logically whilst assuming that male-female roles in the church and home are based on ability, we would then have to assume that the Father is more powerful and better suited to leadership than the Son, who is in turn more powerful and better suited to leadership than the Spirit. But the very beauty of Christ’s submission to the point of death is that he was powerful enough to escape his death at any time. Satan tempted Christ to this very thing in the wilderness, urging him to throw off his self-sacrificing submission to the Father’s will and seize kingship of the Earth by his own strength. In turn, we see that the Spirit is capable of great, awe-inspiring acts of healing, revival, and other miraculous events, but He chooses most often to work quietly away at our hearts, doing the humble and largely unseen work of rooting out sin in God’s people. Thus I would argue that the roles within the Trinity– and by parallel the roles within the church and family– as not primarily based on ability, but on willing submission to God’s redemptive purposes.

Thirdly, and perhaps most practically, if it were true that male-female roles were assigned based on intrinsic suitability, surely that would excuse anyone who deviated from this general norm from submitting to these roles? If we accept that men are generally more aggressive, competitive, authoritative, and logical and thus better suited to leadership, while women are generally more gentle, cooperative, supportive, and emotional and thus better suited to following, then wouldn’t we need to logically allow the women with more leadership ability to use their God-given abilities in a Sunday service, or let more passive, suggestible men let their wives take over in providing direction to their families? After all, if God assigns the roles based on what we’re naturally good at, that would show that He wants us to do the things we’re naturally good at. The logical outcome of an ability-based role distinction seems to me to be functional egalitarianism.

In the past, many arguments for male leadership in the church included false affirmations of women’s emotional hysteria, inferior intelligence, and less discerning minds. Today, let us not be the generation of the church who seeks to root God’s assigned role distinction in women’s inability to lead. It will make us look foolish in the eyes of anyone who has ever seen a woman competent in leadership, and ultimately it will not lend strength to our position.

*Which, for example, tells us that men and women are much more neurologically similar than they are different, and that our hormonal differences grow more or less pronounced in direct relation to how pronounced the difference in our activities are.