Rethinking Christianity in a post-Christian world.
A Controversy of Propriety
As some of you may know, I recently sent an open letter to the TGC (here). Within that post, I outlined a number of disturbing and abusive actions and comments made by many of the most influential people under the TGC umbrella. In the first twelve hours of the posts release, everything was pretty standard fare. Then something unexpected happened. A reader sent the post to Rachel Held Evans and she chose to share it on her twitter page. From there, everything blew up in the oddest of ways.
It was at this point that Doug Wilson and his followers became very heated. Wilson targeted RHE with a fairly standard DW flare (see here)Wilson’s faithful then began to ferociously and mercilessly attack RHE for my words.
I want to be clear, I am not and will not be responding to Wilson’s post.
But, there is something I do want to respond to. Specifically, I want to respond to those who have stated I misinterpreted Wilson’s words on the “propriety of rape” from page 13 of Her Hand in Marriage. Here is the full post:
The controversy has centered around (1) RHE’s specific tweet and (2) whether that tweet represents my own words. Here are both side by side.
10. Doug Wilson teaches that until a daughter has been courted and married she remains under the headship of her father. Her father must be the authoritative presence in her courtship who protects her. However, if the young girl should buck this system at all she is asking to get raped. Further, the fact that she has been raped indicates a certain propriety to the occurrence of rape as a supposed consequence of rejecting the “male headship” of her father.
Now I want to say this carefully. When I originally wrote my post. I didn’t have anything as direct as RHE’s statement in mind. But after all the controversy, and after having had time to think it over, I I agree with her – RHE’s interpretation of my words is an accurate interpretation of my own thoughts . I understand why others do not agree with this interpretation, but I think RHE has a point.
I want to take a moment to break down this rather long paragraph from Wilson’s book. Much of the controversy has centered around a single sentence, but the reality is the quote occurs within a very enlightening context. As such, I want to outline several statements by Wilson within this paragraph which lend to the interpretation that Wilson is saying “unsubmissive women deserve rape.”*
Wilson states that submission to husband/father is designed to protect women from “ungodly men” It is precisely her husband or father who should be protecting here from being “buffeted by all sorts of men” and further from “insults and harassment from men in general.
I want to point out a few things here. First, I have provided the entire paragraph I am summarizing. Please read the paragraph itself, don’t just accept my interpretation. Second, I want to point out something I have pointed out before. Wilson uses abusive language against women who don’t support him. I have well documented this in the above cited open letter.
So one must ask, if Doug Wilson doesn’t think women who don’t submit deserve to be abused somehow (not even talking about rape yet!), why does he so often resort to ad hominem attacks and vitriol filled invective against his female detractors? Also, if it is the job of godly men to protect women from ungodly men, then by calling Rachel Held Evans out in this way is Doug Wilson tacitly proclaiming, “This woman is not under my protection, nor is she worthy of your protection.” Is it any wonder that, as a result, she has been called a “crazy bitch” or sent incredibly disgusting and violent images.
Doug Wilson’s empire of “biblical manhood” is created by defining his masculine identity against that of women, and he encourages his follower to do the same. This is precisely why he targeted Natalie Greenfield’s father and created false details to make him culpable for her abuse. If, for him, a godly man protects his daughter from insult and harassment, the an ungodly man is one who does not. This is the implicit ideology in Wilson’s words. If godly manhood is protecting women from abuse by exerting patriarchal authority over her (that is what he means by “submission”!) then godly womanhood is defined by being under the authority of a man.
2. This is very important because of what Wilson says next. After talking about types of masculine protection – with the hierarchy being father/husband before legal avenues – Wilson makes the controversial statement that spurred this whole controversy.
Women inescapably need godly masculine protection against ungodly masculine harassment; women who refuse protection from their fathers and husbands must seek it from the police. But women who genuinely insist on ‘no masculine protection’ are really women who tacitly agree on the propriety of rape.
Now, it seems important here to define some terms. First, here is the Merriam Webster’s Dictionary’s definition of both “Tacit” and “Propriety”:
Tacit means “expressed or carried on without words or speech” and “Implied or indicated (as by an act or by silence) but not actually expressed.”
Propriety means “behavior that is accepted as socially or morally correct and proper” and “the state or quality of being correct and proper”
By saying “unsubmissive” women “tacitly agree to the propriety of rape” he is, in fact, saying that they have actively consented to a societal order in which rape is a correct and proper response to their actions. Now, already, without discussing whether Wilson has said they “deserve” this, he has at least said they have (a) consented to such a social order and (b) that a social order which rapes these women is not only “proper” but also “morally correct”. Perhaps Wilson is not the wordsmith he claims to be, perhaps he chose random words out of thesaurus and didn’t bother to look up their meanings – but I’m going to go out on a fairly sturdy limb and say he meant exactly what he said.
This cannot, as some claim, mean that he is only saying the women who are unsubmissive think this. One, because it is absurdist for Wilson to claim he has crawled into the minds of these women and realized that they really don’t have a problem with being raped (remember tacitly connotes active consent, not just passive acknowledgment). Two, because the wording of the sentence states that these women are assenting to something that he, in fact, has already said he believes exists. That is, Wilson has already said that insult and harassment and abuse are how ungodly men behave. He didn’t say, “This is how ungodly, unsubmissive women think they behave” he directly said that is how he knows ungodly men behave. Thus, the societal order of rape he describes is already something he has generally presupposed in the proceeding sentences.
So again, whether or not Wilson thinks they “deserve it” he definitely thinks it is a “proper and morally correct” response to their actions.
The question that presents itself, then, is “Why is rape of these women proprietary?”
3. This is actually fairly simple to answer. Because horrible things happen to those who do not obey God’s design. And what is God’s design? If godly men have patriarchal authority and godly women submit, then the design of God that Wilson believes must be adhered to is female submission under male authority. And we know that the women who fight against this by supposedly rejecting all male protection (because for Wilson protection equals authority!) are actively consenting to the proper and morally correct social order of rape. Thus Wilson is saying “Women who reject the system get raped because they have defied God.”
And why do these terrible things happen to these women? Because those who exalt themselves will be humbled (Wilson forgets to cite Matt 23 here). And who does the humbling? It stands to reason that these “unsubmissive” women are humbled through rape for defying God’s design, and if Wilson’s wholly good God is actively working all suffering to bring people to find the ultimate good in him, then God is an agent in the rape of these women. Wilson’s own theology holds that suffering can have a long term benefit. So if a woman God desires to elect (by Wilson’s understanding) is being called to God by the long-term positive affect of being raped by an “ungodly man” then she not only deserved what she got, and it was a good thing. But if an un-elect woman should be raped, this is also good because God is fully within his rights to punish the wicked and perhaps her lack of faith will be exposed as apostate. In either case, the woman got exactly what Doug Wilson believes she deserved.
It is for precisely the reasons stated above that I agree with Rachel Held Evans’ summary of my statement. And so I will say it too, because it is important and people need to hear it. Doug Wilson states, according to the statement cited above, that unsubmissive women deserve to be raped.
And in closing I want to say this. Women do not choose to be raped. They are not complicit in rape. They bear no moral responsibility for rape. We, as Christians have a responsibility not to oppress victims but to stand beside them, support them, believe them and help their voices be heard. That is why I write the posts I write and if I must do so as an “unnamed blogger”, that is fine because this was never about me in the first place.
Hi, I'm Nate. I am a firm believer in respectful engagement towards mutually beneficial dialogue. I hope to challenge you to rethink some ideas, and hope to be challenged by you as well. Thank you for taking the time to read and engage.
My posts are intended to provoke thought and start conversations. If you have found my thoughts helpful, please feel free to share and/or reblog as long as proper credit given.
Grace and Peace.
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