Complementarian megachurch pastors are like pitchers who only throw 40-mile-an-hour change-ups. It feels cheap and dirty to swing at their pitches, but I'm genuinely bothered by what I've been hearing lately from that strange foreign land where Christians believe that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands. First I learned that it's trendy for pastors in that world to tweet out photos and commentary to their congregations about their "smoking hot wives." And then Mark Driscoll busts out his latest gaffe (transcript here) about how nagging wives who refuse to submit to their husbands are like leaky faucets that keep you awake at night with their dripping. So I just needed to say that my wife is not a rotisserie chicken or a leaky faucet.
I. Rotisserie Chicken aka Smoking Hot Wife
It all started with the famous "Baby Jesus" prayer Will Ferrell busted out in Talladega Nights. Then Family Baptist Church pastor Joe Nelms used the phrase from the movie at the invocation for a NASCAR race in Nashville in 2011. And ever since then, complementarian (gender hierarchical) pastors have been tweeting out commentary and pictures of their dates with their "smoking hot wives."
I don't have a whole lot of first-hand experience with complementarian culture, but my brother Zach Hoag, who used to live in that world, wrote a very eloquent account of this phenomenon on HuffPost.
I was once a part of the segment of evangelicalism that fosters this kind of attitude -- the kind that makes leaders go on and on about their wives' hotness as if it's some kind of requisite modern virtue. And, full disclosure, I bought into the smokin' hot talk for a while, if only to be one of the guys, part of the team. Of course, underlying all that rhetoric is a strong complementarian view of gender roles in the church and home, where men are the heads and women submit, where men are the shepherds and women ... submit, where men need lots of sex because that's how God created them and women ... submit. You get the idea.
To give you a concrete example of what these "smoking hot wife" communiques actually look like, Zach shares the following:
Recently, I saw one megachurch pastor post a photo of his wife on Instagram with a caption from Proverbs 31 (I know, surprise surprise). Part of it took some, ahem, liberties with the text: "her leather pants are like water to her husband's soul." This particular fellow is known for free and frequent hot wife posts, including one photo of the couple with a room full of new church members where he commented that despite his joy at meeting such great new people, he was really just staring at his wife's (no doubt leather-clad) butt.
Now if you're thinking why in the world would a pastor talk this way, my brother Derek Rishmawy sheds some light on the rationale:
Trying to gain credibility, sometimes they say things to put themselves in the normal guy category so people might think, "Hey, that guy thinks his wife is attractive naked and wants to have sex with her, just like I feel about my wife. Who knew? He's a person and stuff." After years of hearing that pastors need to talk more openly about sex, be more personal and human, they do, and it just so happens that it comes out clumsy.
I appreciate Derek playing devil's advocate a little bit (he wasn't defending the practice, just trying to add nuance). At the same time, I don't think it's that innocent and it reveals a lot about what's problematic in the complementarian movement. Mark Driscoll and his buddies have said over and over again that their mission is to get guys back into church and that the reason the guys left is because the church "got feminine."
But what I see going on here is just a different version of Joel Osteen. Instead of compromising the Gospel by putting it in a self-help package like Osteen, the complementarian movement is allowing their tough-guy target audience to determine how they read the Bible, what they preach sermon series on, etc. A tough guy audience likes to hear tough sermons about sin; they want to get smacked by a homiletical two-by-four so they can say, "Thank you sir!!! May I please have another?!!!" But preaching about mercy and gentleness and all that sissy crap that effeminate priests like Henri Nouwen write about? Meh...
The church didn't "get feminine." The church has been "feminine" for its entire existence if masculinity is defined as strutting around boasting about your wife's leather pants. That's the demonic fleshly hubris that we are supposed to unlearn by denying ourselves and taking up our crosses to follow Jesus. Complementarian megachurch culture has created a model of Christian leader that could be described as the badass who has everything you want. It certainly draws a crowd when a ripped, smoking hot man with a commanding stage presence is the preacher. Especially if he has a smoking hot wife.
And to be clear, I'm not saying God can't work and create vital, kingdom-building ministries through egomaniacs (I hope He can or I'm screwed). At the same time I really think that despite the fact that the complementarians are vociferous in their denunciation of other pastors who sell out on their "biblical" values to accommodate pop culture, complementarian "biblical" values seem like they're just tailored by a different flavor of pop culture.
II. The Leaky Faucet
So, Mark Driscoll was preaching a sermon that covered the "Wives, submit to your husbands" passage in Ephesians 5:22-23 (I wonder how many times a year he goes back to that Scripture as his sermon text). He said the following to his congregation amid wild guffaws of laughter:
And some women -- you're a nag. You're disrespectful. You're quarrelsome. Being married to you is like a life sentence, and the guy's just scratching on his wall every day, 'One more day. Just one more day' ... Proverbs talks about certain women -- they're like a dripping faucet. You ever tried to sleep with a dripping faucet? Plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk. It's what we use to torture people who are prisoners of war. A wife is like that. She just -- boom, boom, boom, boom.
You know, I might tell my wife that she's a nag when I'm in a bad mood and I'm not being Christ-like. But to justify that attitude by appealing to the Bible? Sheesh... I need my wife to communicate her needs and concerns to me. It's often the case that I'm grouchy when she reminds me to do things that I promised I would do. And when I'm grouchy enough times, she stops asking and does whatever I was supposed to do herself and gets stressed out and then has a meltdown when the pile builds up too high, while all the while I'm happily plinking away on my laptop keyboard writing blogs about what a great man-feminist I am (the first step is recognizing you have a problem).
I just can't imagine having a marriage in which either one of us were officially in charge of other. It's so foreign to the way that I understand Jesus' teachings about servanthood. Why would I not want to work with my wife on ways of communicating and dividing our chores that will keep us both healthy? Why would I want to walk through life oblivious to the ways that I'm stepping on her toes? Why would I not want to encourage her to teach and correct me when I'm being sinful? I just can't understand how a relationship as intimate as a marriage could ever be psychologically healthy under a hierarchical structure.
But I guess the complementarians will keep on getting the guys back in church. We've got a lot of women that come to our church without their husbands who are out golfing or fishing or whatever it is they do on Sundays. Their churches will keep growing, and ours will keep shrinking because they're giving the men what they want and if the men are on board with Jesus then the whole family is on board. Women throughout the church's history have never had too much trouble getting on board (just take a look at who was standing at the foot of the cross and who got up at the crack of dawn to head over to Jesus' tomb).
Our church has a men's retreat next weekend. Thirteen out of 20 slots have been filled. It's hard not to read that as a straw poll on my effectiveness as a pastor. But even if I could get 100 guys to go on a retreat with me, I'm not going to make my wife into a rotisserie chicken or a leaky faucet.