The following is a transcript of an address by Fr. Bill, delivered in a chapel service at an evangelical seminary on October 1, 2008. Citations for quotes were not provided during the delivery of this address, but are included in hyperlinks below.
Thank you for that welcome. It is a honor to speak with you this evening, about something I suspect you have already been talking about among yourselves for several weeks now: Sarah Palin.
Within a couple of days after Palin’s debut as a vice-presidential running mate, the internet forums that I regularly read and my wife’s email inbox began to fill with anxious queries from those who were obviously conflicted by Palin’s meteoric rise to national fame. For those of us who have contended for the truth of the Bible about the sexes, Sarah Palin has become the perfect storm.
PALIN THE PERFECT STORM
We have watched for someone like Sarah Palin for the past 25 years. Our ministry originated at the end of the 1980s, when secular feminism was consolidating its cultural supremacy in America. By that time, the feminist world-view had its hands firmly on all the levers of secular power: state and federal legislatures and the courts, the public education establishment from kindergarten through graduate schools, the media in all its forms – film, radio, television, newspapers, and magazines.
And at the end of the 1980s, secular feminism presented itself at the door of the church for baptism. From the 1990s to the present day, religious feminism has recreated American evangelicalism in its own feminist image..
In 2006 Wayne Grudem, a founder of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, published a book entitled Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? I do not know if he meant his title to be ironic or not. When you read his book, you find an air-tight case that Evangelical feminism is liberalism. And at the end of his book, Grudem lays out the evidence for the triumph of feminism in American evangelicalism, a triumph as complete as feminism’s triumph in secular culture by the end of the 1980s.
Today, by Grudem’s analysis, feminism reigns in all the evangelical institutions – its seminaries (this current seminary is a very rare exception), as well as its publishing houses, its mission boards, and its parachurch organizations.
Just a year before Grudem published that book, Russell Moore, the Dean of the Theology School at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville observed, “Egalitarians are winning the evangelical gender debate, not because their arguments are stronger, but because, in some sense, we’re all egalitarians now.” He is right. With exception of the Southern Baptist Convention and isolated independent congregations scattered about, evangelicals are virtually egalitarian today.
But, even a voice from the Southern Baptist Convention has recently dismayed and confused many by giving away the farm to the feminists who demand surrender. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptists’ flagship seminary in Louisville, had this to say on one of his recent blogs that comments on Sarah Palin’s national candidacy:
The New Testament clearly speaks to the complementary roles of men and women in the home and in the church, but not in roles of public responsibility. I believe that women as CEOs in the business world and as officials in government are no affront to Scripture. Then again, that presupposes that women — and men — have first fulfilled their responsibilities within the little commonwealth of the family.
Mohler – and many evangelical leaders like him, including many leading complementarians such as James Dobson and CBMW’s current director David Kotter – all unite in what they view to be a silence in Scripture concerning women in the public square, a silence that allows evangelical women to fulfill the feminist ideal – that is, the virtual interchangeability of men and women in social roles and functions. According to these complementarian leaders, the headship of males is something restricted to home and family, the private spheres of personal faith, while outside these spheres women may do anything a man may do, including to lead the most powerful nation on earth.
But why should the little commonwealth – Mohler’s term for the family – why should that little commonwealth limit the roles of men and women, while the great commonwealth liberates men and women to be all they can possibly be? Why should the church organize itself along gender lines when the world insists that a person’s sex is so irrelevant that women should serve in the armed forces, including combat roles?
PALIN AND THE CHALLENGE TO EVANGELICALS
Kotter of CBMW is wrong. Palin poses a critical dilemma to evangelical Protestants in America. On one hand, her pro-life values encourage evangelicals who have fought long and hard since the days of Francis Schaeffer against the slaughter of millions of defenseless children. Sarah Palin’s fecundity encourages those who take the Bible’s opinion at face value, that children are a blessing from the LORD. Her refusal to abort her last pregnancy when she learned that Trig had Downs’ syndrome shows that her pro-life values are genuine rather than politically expedient.
Yet, at the same time, Palin is not like Geraldine Ferraro or Hillary Clinton. Those women entered the contest for political office after their child-rearing days were completed. Sarah Palin launched her political career with children still at home. She completed a speaking engagement after her water broke with Trig, and after the speech she flew back across the continent to Alaska to give birth. Three days after that, she was back in her governor’s office.
But, the most powerful challenge to evangelicals comes from Palin’s ardent feminism. When asked about the care of her children, she replies, “Why not ask the other governors about their parenting?” Of course, she means the other governors who are men. Her retort arises from the premise that fathers and mothers are interchangeable. She further comments that there should be “no doors women should not walk through” and she exulted in her first national speech as a vice-presidential candidate that her election would “shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”
And, so Sarah Palin presents evangelicals with a tightly packed conundrum. How shall we parse it? What are we to make of it, no matter how we vote on election day?
PALIN IS NO DEBORAH
Before I answer that question, I must dismiss an answer, one that many complementarians offer to justify their delight with Palin’s position on the national horizon. Many point to Deborah as the precedent for someone like Sarah Palin.
But, you do not have to look closely at Deborah to learn that Deborah is no precedent for Sarah Palin.
Deborah did not mince words that it was the cowardliness of Barak and other men in Israel that made her ministry needful in the first place. It was Deborah who praised those men in Israel who finally showed up for the fight, a fight in which she resolutely refused to participate. At Barak’s pleading, she accompanied him as far as the battlefield, but she refused to join him on the battlefield. Deborah did not run around the battlefield in a chariot, as so many starry-eyed feminist evangelicals suppose. Instead, she exhorted the wimpy Barak do his duty as a judge.
Deborah never crowed about breaking glass ceilings. Deborah never demanded that all doors open to men must also be open to women. Deborah was one unconventionally deployed mother among millions of mothers in the midst of a thoroughly patriarchal culture. Sarah Palin is just one more feminist among of millions of feminists in the midst of a thoroughly feminist society. Deborah is a whale in a bathtub, while Palin is a guppy in the Atlantic. There is no parallel, no point of contact between Sarah Palin and the wife of Lappidoth.
PALIN IS THE EVANGELICAL SAMSON
On the other hand, there is a character in the Book of Judges whose career sheds light on a phenomenon like Sarah Palin. That character is Samson, and Palin’s impact on evangelicals parallels Samson’s impact on the Israel of his day. I can see all your eyebrows crawling toward your hairlines, but hear me out.
The significant similarities between Samson and Palin are these:
First, both Palin and Samson embody conflicting values that spring from antagonistic agendas. Samson was the LORD’s anointed set against the Philistines who ruled over God’s people. On the other hand, Samson wallowed in unclean food, unclean sex, and a penchant for sleeping with the enemy and then slaughtering the enemy.
Palin doesn’t hold an office in the Church by virtue of divine commissioning, but she is certainly recognizable as “one of us” who champions values and agendas that evangelicals are known to champion (i.e. pro-life values). And, yet, like Samson who repudiated the holiness God demanded from Israel, Palin repudiates two millennia of Apostolic faith and practice concerning how women should advance the kingdom of God. She would have women move out of the domestic realm into the public arena.
It’s the audience in that public arena that alerts us to Palin’s most long-lasting impact. In Samson’s case, it is clear that the LORD wanted to upset the cozy truce Israel had forged with her Philistine rulers. Samson’s provocations against the Philistines should have rallied Israel to repent of their sins and to throw off the pagan oppressors.
Instead, Israel tied Samson up and delivered him to the Philistines, to protect their own peace and safety under Philistine rule. The only good that Samson achieved was to temporarily discomfit the Philistines. Meanwhile, Samson’s career occasioned a great hardening of Israel’s heart. Israel preferred peace under Philistine rule rather than to rebel against God’s enemies.
In a similar way, Palin is pushing evangelicals to a crucial choice. Today, evangelicals are double-minded in a way that Israel was double-minded during Samson’s days. Evangelicals are enchanted with religious feminism, but they are troubled when a mother of five, four of whom are still at home, leaves her family to rule Alaska, and now America; leaves her compliant husband to raise the kids while she attempts to lead the world’s most powerful nation. The old feminists used to think they could have it all, until bitter experience showed them they were wrong. Now Sarah Palin is declaring that women can, indeed, have it all – or, at least, the trappings of it all.
The outcomes for evangelicals are the same as the outcomes on Israel when it was challenged by Samson’s contradictions. On one hand, evangelicals should look at Palin and repent of their double mindedness about the sexes, repent of their lip service to motherhood and family, to repent of cheering their wives and daughters who compete with men in the public arena.
On the other hand, evangelicals might harden their hearts. Evangelicals might unite with secular feminists in proclaiming that the Bible is wrong, outmoded, and dispensable as far as anything it says about the sexes in marriage, family, church, and society.
Palin presents evangelicals with a fork in the road. One path abandons the faith once delivered to the saints. The other path leads first to repentance, and then to taking up the cross and following Christ through the hatred that the world always aims at Christ and those who follow him.
REPENTANCE FOR EVANGELICALS
If anyone sets out on the right road, the first steps will be steps of repentance. I cannot possibly expound in detail all the areas where double-minded evangelicals and confused complementarians need to repent. Perhaps you can think of some of those areas now. Perhaps the Spirit of Christ is even now showing you areas of repentance especially pertinent to your own double-mindedness or confusion.
However, I wish to quickly note three areas where evangelicals generally are in desperate need of repentance as we face the future that Sarah Palin will usher in, no matter whether she is elected or not.
First of all, evangelicals must repent of the confusion about the struggle within our churches over the nature and meaning of the sexes. One hopeful sign of this kind of repentance was offered by Dr. Russell Moore in February of last year. During a conference in Minneapolis, Dr. Moore said this:*
We have to understand that this [debate about the sexes] is not an intramural debate. Quite frankly, that’s the way we’ve been treating it for too long. We’ve been treating it like the kind of conversation dispensationalists and covenant theologians may have with one another. … That is not what is taking place.
What we have to ultimately understand is that the Gospel itself is patriarchal. It has to do with the Fatherhood of God, a Fatherhood that is not abstract, a Fatherhood that is not theoretical, a Fatherhood that the entire Bible lays out as a God who is giving a covenant inheritance to his Son. It is not just the individual texts; it’s the whole trajectory of Scripture,…
Related to this observation by Dr. Moore is yet another repentance that evangelicals sorely need – to repent of their acceptance of egalitarianism as just another valid form of Christianity. In 1923, Princeton professor G. Gresham Machen published his book entitled Christianity and Liberalism. The book’s very title announced its thesis that Christianity and liberalism were different religions. Today we badly need a chorus of evangelical leaders to proclaim that Christianity and egalitarianism are different religions.
There is no book out there entitled Christianity and Egalitarianism, but you can find a few voices proclaiming this very unwelcomed thesis in the evangelical wilderness. One of them is Dr. S. M. Hutchens, a senior editor of Touchstone and a regular blogger at Touchstone’s blog Mere Comments. Of all Touchstone‘s editors, Hutchens has brought the most trenchant indictment of egalitarianism as a false faith. Recently, he offered these words in Mere Comments:
Because of the relation of God and man in Christ, any anthropological heresy also inescapably infects theology and becomes a theological heresy as well . . . . A Christ who is Human in the egalitarian sense cannot be Man in the orthodox sense, [The egalitarian Human Christ ] is merely the apotheosis of the egalitarian ideal. He cannot be the head of the man as the man is the head of the woman as God is his own head. The ordinal relations of which the Apostle spoke, and in which the Church believes, are utterly broken on the egalitarian wheel. That is why egalitarianism is a heresy and no orthodox Christian can be an egalitarian.
Dr. Hutchens knows, as you and I know, there are many who claim to be authentically Christian and egalitarian, and to their own unexamined hearts that claim appears credible. But, the human capacity for duplicity, self-deceit, and equivocation is almost infinite. That is why such folk must repent if they are to ever see the Kingdom of God. Their doctrine is a lie, and our Lord was shockingly clear that outside the eternal Jerusalem are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. [Rev. 22:15]
Is egalitarianism a lie? I submit to you that it is one of the most basic of all lies. Egalitarianism is one diabolical answer to Satan’s perennial question: Hath God said …?
Is woman created from and for the man? Or are men to submit to women in all ways that woman submit to men?
Does Paul restrict women from teaching or exercising authority over men? Or, should women serve as elders and bishops, ruling men and teaching them as officers of the church?
Are women a weaker vessel? Or are they warriors, as Carolyn Custis James tells us?
Is a woman’s domain private and domestic, as Paul tells us in Titus 2? Or should she excel as a corporate CEO, or as a president of the United States?
Did God really mean it when he declared it a shame for a nation to be oppressed by children and ruled by women? Or is that idea simply the whining of an ancient patriarchal prejudice?
In another place on Touchstone‘s blog, Dr. Hutchens explains why he is willing to incur the wrath, indignation, and scorn of the evangelical academy, for identifying egalitarianism as the enemy of the gospel. Here’s what he had to say:
There was a time when I was much younger that I hoped all this wouldn’t be so. How much more friendly and comfortable and status-filled life might have been if I had not come to the convictions on this that I did, for believe me, I am an unpopular man, and don’t enjoy being ill thought-of by nice people with whom I would like to be friendly. But to hell with all that: life is short, and I must soon give an account of myself and my teaching to the Lord. I would rather experience some discomfort in this life than to have him identify me as a coward, a toady, and a false teacher.**
And there, my friends, is the third area where evangelicals need desperately to repent: evangelicals simply must repent of their infatuation with the applause of the world. And, the world applauds wildly when those who name the name of Christ repudiate the obvious and expansive patriarchy of the Bible – and not just the Bible, but what the Bible says to bind the consciences of Christians as to their relationships with one another in marriage, family, church, and public society.
And if we repent of this infatuation with the world and its applause, what must we embrace instead? Again, the New Testament is riddled with the answer. We must take up our crosses and follow Christ. We must confess, defend, and believe that those who would live godly in this age will be persecuted. We must believe that our Lord spoke truly when he told us that in this world we would meet persecution. And, we must also heed his exhortation not to fear, for he has overcome the world.
For some of you here, I have said some dismaying things. Sarah Palin and her debut may lead, eventually, to a revival of godliness. Or, history may look back on this election season as God’s judgment on evangelicals for their culpable double-mindedness. Sarah Palin may, in fact, be a strong delusion for a people who had eyes but would not see, and ears that would not hear. Time will show us eventually what sort of legacy Sarah Palin leaves in her wake.
But tonight, I hope you understand that whatever Sarah Palin turns out to be for evangelicals, you have in your hands an opportunity that most American Christians have never seen – the opportunity to obey our Lord in a time of great darkness, in a nation whose Christians are being sifted as wheat. If you can find the grace to be faithful when faithfulness will most certainly cause you to be marginalized and mocked, you can by your faithfulness lay a foundation of righteousness for your children and grandchildren.
We did not come to this situation quickly. And, we will not recover from it quickly. But, absent the Lord’s return, the time will come when the double-mindedness and confusion that characterizes evangelicalism today will blow away – first by the cleansing wind of persecution for righteousness’ sake, then by that same mighty Wind that vivified Christ’s Body at the beginning. The righteous will get more righteous yet, the filthy more filthy yet.
And that future day of spiritual health and cultural vitality is in your hands tonight. The revival of godliness always has a season of preparation, in which the Holy Spirit works through those who are usually never seen, those whose faith and faithfulness are the seeds of righteousness that flourish years, perhaps decades, later.
With Sarah Palin planted at the fork in the road, God grant that you shall choose the right path. And may he give you grace to persevere upon it for the sake of the Church in a later generation.
Again, thank you so much for this opportunity to speak to you.
*Moore’s remarks are contained in an MP3 file available here. A transcription of the relevant portion of the audio file may be found here.
**Hutchens’ talent for speaking straightforwardly in this way may be seen in a recent blog entitled “Naming Heresy” wherein he not only explains why egalitarianism merits the label heresy, but he also takes to task those evangelical leaders who know that egalitarianism is heresy but fail to say so forthrightly in their public communications.