Book Review: The Last Closet

In another life, I am very good friends with a retired Marine Corps Colonel who served as a co-van (advisor) in Vietnam; one of my great privileges has been to help him tell his story. He is an advocate for the cause of POWs and veterans with traumatic injuries including PTSD. In the course of helping him, I became enamored with the heroism of a select group of POWs: James Stockdale, Jeremiah Denton, Sam Johnson, George Coker, Harry Jenkins, George McKnight, James Mulligan, Howard Rutledge, Robert Shumaker, Ronald Storz, and Nels Tanner.

These POWs resisted the threats, beatings, and other tortures of their captors, and–in some cases–even turned the tables on their captors. (Denton’s and Stockdale’s exploits are the stuff of legend.) They strengthened the morale of other POWs and, as such, represented a special threat to their captors. For this reason, they were isolated from everyone else.

They were the Alcatraz Gang.

They didn’t take their abuses lying down; they fought back to the extent that they were able. They would become the standard-bearers for POW conduct: Stockdale would receive the Medal of Honor; Denton and Coker would receive the Navy Cross. Denton and Johnson would even go on to political careers. Denton’s book–When Hell Was In Session–is a classic.

But what does this have to do with Moira Greyland, who–a year older than myself–never saw action in Vietnam?

Moira was every bit the badass as every member of that Alcatraz Gang.

For most of her life, Hell was in session. Her story–The Last Closet–is now in print.

Fair warning: if you have endured and form of ongoing abuse–particularly physical and/or sexual–this book can be triggering, although Moira does a splendid job of providing warnings about very difficult paragraphs.

The daughter of science fiction legend Marion Zimmer Bradley (MZB) and famed numismatic expert Walter Breen (WB), Moira–on the very top of the surface–had a good life. Like her parents, she is very intelligent: a member of Mensa. She has many talents from sewing to singing to fencing and especially the harp.

OTOH, to call her home life horrific would be charitable.

While MZB and WB were very intelligent and accomplished, they were incredibly perverted: WB and MZB were extremely libertine about sex. To them, inhibitions were the result of religious persecution. MZB called marriage “an outdated screwing license.” To WB, homosexuality was the natural state, and heterosexuality was a product of religion. To them, “anything goes” meant “have sex with whomever and however”, including with children.

In WB’s case, especially with young boys.

MZB was abusive both sexually and physically, in many cases using the physical abuse to force her children to provide her with sexual gratification.

To Moira’s credit, she provides about as charitable a presentation of her parents as anyone could. They each were themselves abused sexually and physically; WB was raised by a very abusive Catholic mother, and was bipolar and a paranoid schizophrenic; MZB was herself raped by her father; WB was molested by a Catholic priest. They each had horrid upbringings that undoubtedly put them behind the 8-ball.

At the same time, Moira, also to her credit, does not excuse their abuses, and in fact lets their record speak for itself: when they were victimized by their parents, that was their parents’ sins. But when WB and MZB chose to abuse their own children–and, sadly, other children–they transcended even the depravity of their parents.

They did this in no small part because each, after enduring their abuses, rejected God. In effect, they said, “God didn’t save us from our parents, so we want no part of that deal.”

Their resultant lives–aside from their professional successes–were a complete descent into the worst of sexual depravity, leaving a trail of damaged lives. Some of their victims, broken from the abuses, would die young from suicide or other forms of self-abuse. Others would fight off various addictions and hangups for years.

Moira struggles with complex PTSD to this day, and probably will for decades to come.

(I am aware of complex PTSD because a family member on MrsLarijani’s side, also a sexual abuse survivor at the hands of her father, described that form of PTSD to me recently, as she has undergone much therapy and has even started her own initiatives to educate people in her profession about PTSD issues. And some of her reactions to certain things are similar to what I know from a friend of mine from my SBTS days who–also abused in such a fashion–experiences the same reactions.)

Here are my takes:

(1) Moira is brutally honest, even about herself. I’ve always contended that, if you’re going to recover from abuses–no matter how terrible they are–you must be willing to face the truth. She shows a lot more courage in her honesty than she credits herself. That also is probably why, in spite of suffering more than even her parents did, she is a Christian today whereas her parents rejected God altogether.

She was not perfect in her life; the abuses she endured left her with thin, marginally-existent boundaries. That led her to a level of experimentation in her teen and adult life that could have led to disaster. It also weakened her ability to see which men had her best interests in mind when they pursued her.

Thankfully, she escaped from that with a comparatively moderate level of self-inflicted baggage. I’ve seen people suffer far less than she did and make far worse decisions, and never learn from them.

(2) Moira shows, in stark, stomach-turning detail, the telos of the Sexual Revolution.

Her father, WB, was one of the early movers and shakers in NAMBLA, which promotes “man-boy love”; i.e. pederasty. They were the ones who coined the slogan “sex before eight or it’s too late”. Their view: pederasty is the purest form of love, and will prepare boys for adulthood.

Her mother was herself very “uninhibited”: she was a lesbian, but had many liaisons with men, multiple partners, etc. MZB and WB were polyamorous.

There were no sexual boundaries in her home. Nudity was expected; any expression of affinity for heterosexuality was met with hard criticism and derision; orgies were common; and MZB molested both Moira and Patrick frequently.

Every time Moira brought a boyfriend home, her father would pursue him for sex.

Her parents, obsessed with sex, dehumanized their children. Emotional support was all but nonexistent, with MZB always living on the edge of rage and WB lacking the stones to stand up to her. MZB, rather than being supportive of her daughter and complimenting her on her singing skills, was always hitting her with hard criticism. Moira could never be right about anything. WB, in contrast, was passive and often distant, chiding Moira for being a prude.

Early on, when Moira tried to report WB to police, her complaints fell on deaf ears. It was not until the late 1980s when, with the help of a counselor, she was able to successfully intervene on behalf of a child that WB was molesting.

Moira does a wonderful job articulating the whole problem with the paradigm of “consent”, even among adults, and why, even in libertine arrangements, it isn’t as cut-and-dried as the word connotes.

(3) Moira does a great job articulating the problem with gay “marriage”, and masterfully destroys the notion that sexual orientation is unchangeable. While Moira does not condemn gay people, she does confront the profound level of toxicity and dysfunction that is inherent in that lifestyle. That has rankled many in the sci-fi community who otherwise supported her, but that is her strength: Moira is, if nothing else, a truth teller.

My only criticism of her book: I wish she had shared more detail with respect to the spiritual side of her journey. She does point out that she became a Christian in her teen years, and she does a good job quoting Scripture in context in describing various situations. But other than that, not a whole lot about that side of her life.

In fairness to her, though, it could be that it’s still too early in her recovery–and the wounds are still raw–for her to do an adequate assessment of that.

—–

In this review, I do not refer to Moira by initials or even by last name; I call her by her first name. There is a purpose for that.

One of the things Moira struggles with is the depersonalization that she suffered at the hands of her abusers. She was effectively a nobody. She wasn’t allowed to have a personality; she wasn’t even allowed to have a sexual identity: her father wanted her to look neither masculine nor feminine; her mother eschewed all semblance of femininity.

I will end this with a note to Moira:

Moira, you have a name. And, given that you are in Christ, you have a gift that no one can take from you.

That is important, as your parents failed you on just about every relevant front, not just sexually. While, through their successes, they were material providers, they failed to provide a stable, loving home life that even mediocre parents provide their children. Even worse, they subjected you to the most dehumanizing of abuses, stealing from you what was never theirs to receive let alone take.

Thankfully, in Christ, you have a reward that will never perish, nor shall any man (or woman) take it from you.

Some may ask why God didn’t stop the abuses. Almost every survivor of profound hardship will wrestle with that question. There are various theological answers based on particular schools of thought, most of which don’t rise to the level of useless.

My take: your experiences, Mark’s experiences, and every experience of every one of their victims, will be a witness against them on the day of judgment. There will be a day when they will receive the payback for their atrocities. And as the saying goes about payback, it is, in fact, a Biblical truth.

On the upside: your perseverance will also be a witness on the day of judgment. Jesus Himself said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give to them eternal life. Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

Your parents, having suffered a great deal in their childhoods, rejected God on account of what was taken from them. Their thinking was, in spite of their God-given intelligence, short-sighted and temporal. The results were tragic.

Your parents took a lot of things from you, including most of what was your earthly identity. You are recovering that, even if–at times–the progress comes in inches rather than miles, and takes years where you are used to accomplishing things in hours and minutes.

Having said that, the identity that matters most–the fact that Jesus has your name written on his hands–no one can take that away.

You were raised by two of Satan’s most devoted worker bees. Their abuses went far beyond sexual, although those alone were worse than horrid enough in their own right. They did everything they could to indoctrinate you in a secular paradigm that would gross out most hedonists. They tortured you like the Communists tortured American POWs in Vietnam.

But, by the grace of God, you fought back against your captors in a way that would have made James Bond Stockdale and Jeremiah Denton proud.

I know you don’t always feel like you acted with courage. But you did. In spades.

Hell was in session, and the gates of Hell lost.

You have fought valiantly, and have prevailed. There are still battles to fight, and there will always be times when those demons rear their ugly heads. But you will prevail, not because of great works you have done, but because you received Him who does great works.

Keep fighting the good fight!

The Last Closet: Moira Greyland Tells Her Story

…and what a story it is. The book is available at Amazon. Moira Greyland is the daughter of science fiction authors Walter Breen (WB) and Marion Zimmer Bradley (MZB). Both were very abusive on all fronts: physically, sexually, emotionally, etc. They were polyamorous, and their polyamory extended to children.

Although her book is just out today, I am already familiar with her story, as I learned about it in 2014 from reading Vox Day. I have blogged a few times about Moira’s story. Here is one of those instances.

Fair warning: her account is very, very hard to read. The physical and sexual abuses that she endured at the hands of both of her parents are worse than horrific.

But the real story is not the abuses that she suffered.

Over here, we’re all about comebacks.

And in Moira Greyland, we have the mother of all comebacks.

I will review the book in the coming weeks.

Biblical Counseling: My $0.02

My first foray into the world of “Biblical Counseling”, which, back then, was called “Nouthetic Counseling”, began in 1990, when I volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. The director, Janet, was a big supporter of Jay Adams, and our supplemental training often involved studying and discussing chapters from one of his books. I still have the book The Christian Counselor’s Manual.

At the time, there was a huge countercultural backlash, among many conservative Christians, against traditional understandings of mental illness. Everything–and that’s the key word here–from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia was, in many circles, ascribed to unresolved baggage due to one’s own sin.

Whereas the psychiatric world would contend that these issues were chemical imbalances or matters that had an undetermined organic cause–for which the cure was medication–the “Biblical Counseling” proponents would insist that this was all about confronting sin and guiding a person in repentance.

Compounding matters, the “Biblical Counseling” crowd would promote the idea that pretty much any Christian could be a “Biblical” counselor.

Having seen both approaches in the lives of various folks in the Christian world over the last three decades, and having been a student of the Scriptures–we’re talking Berean-style–for most of the last 4 decades–and having served my share of time as a teacher for most of those years, and having provided my share of counsel and having seen others provide it, here is my assessment….

(1) Biblical counseling is a tool in the toolbox.

(2) There are many times when Biblical counseling is helpful, as–irrespective of one’s mental health needs–we all need to be exhorted and admonished and pointed to the redeeming work of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.

(3) Not just anyone can do it.

(4) There are many times when a person–even with the best of counsel–will still need psychotropic medications. Whether this is the result of that person’s sins, or whether sin has exacerbated an existing mental illness, or whether the mental illness is a completely separate animal, is irrelevant.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to know many people who are bipolar. Some of them are not Christian, some of them are Christian. But here’s the thing: there are two types of bipolar people I know: (a) those who take their medications and (b) those who do not. Those who DO take their meds tend to live otherwise responsible lives, even as their mood swings are hell at times. Those who do NOT? Their lives, down to the person, are total train wrecks: sexual excesses, financial irrationality, manic meltdowns, even suicide attempts. Sometimes, sadly, those suicide attempts are successful.

“Biblical counseling” alone never worked with them; for those who are Christian, what works is Biblical counseling combined with diligent and vigilant use of appropriate medications.

Yes, we must address sin issues; that goes for everyone, including you and me. As we do this, we must address that with respect to the Gospel, which includes the work of the Holy Spirit. I would also add that, in our broken world, in our broken bodies, sometimes that brokenness requires psychotropic medications.

Can sin be a cause of mental illness? I think it is possible. I believe that people can have bipolar or schizophrenic issues that sin may exacerbate. Over time, that may take enough of a toll on a person’s brain chemistry that such a one, irrespective of the quality of counsel they may receive, may have to take medications for the rest of his or her life.

Depression is also a fickle issue. I know of a fair number of mothers who suffered post-partem depression. Some of them toughed it out without meds–and their lives were miserable–and others took an anti-depressant for a season, which took some of the edge off their depression.

Fact is, when someone is in a spiral like that–depression, anxiety, manic stage, etc.–they are not in a capacity to reason with you. I’ve tried to counsel folks who were in that position, and it would not have mattered if you could prove to them that the sky is blue, they wouldn’t believe it. I’ve seen very excellent counselors fall short. Why? The issue in those cases wasn’t the quality of counsel: the client absolutely needed medications.

But once the clients took their prescribed meds, they were easy to reason with: Biblical counseling worked just fine with them, once they had the faculties to reason.

My point here: it’s not a question of either/or, as this is a both/and. Biblical counseling works, and sometimes that requires that the client take psychotropic meds in order to be able to receive the counsel.

I would never, ever, tell a client to ditch his or her meds. In fact, I would advise the client to take their meds as directed.

Now I’m going to explain why I have a problem with the idea that “anyone can do Biblical counseling”….

First off, I’ve been a teacher of the Scriptures–spanning children, teens, and adults–for many years. I am not the greatest teacher ever, nor am I the worst. I AM a stickler for sound doctrine, I DO relate the dynamics about which we read in Scripture to our lives today, I interpret the Old Testament with respect to the New Testament, I am a serious student of Scripture, I am observant of the various trends that emerge in evangelical circles, and I am an ardent observer of the fruits of those various trends, sometimes for better, other times for worse. I am a student of Church history and theology. I once had a pastor call me a “blue-collar scholar.”

For me, rightly dividing the word of truth is a very big deal, an imperative if you are going to teach.

And Biblical counseling is a form of teaching!

Would you accept financial counseling from someone who just filed Chapter 7? Of course not.

Would you take a math course from a teacher who failed algebra? Of course not.

Would you accept marital counseling from someone who had an affair?

Then no…it takes more than just being among the Redeemed to be qualified to counsel. You may give someone advice from time to time–even then, wisdom means knowing the value of shutting the heck up–but what I am talking about is farther-reaching than that.

To provide Biblical counsel, you have to know a lot about sin. You also have to know a lot about how the Gospel works in the life of the Believer.

You don’t learn that in a day. And you don’t just learn that by taking a few courses and getting a certificate. You have to wrestle with the Scriptures; you have to wrestle with your own sin, which everyone has; you have to know what it is like to fall down and get back up, over and over; you have to have lots of experience going to the throne of grace, knowing that you stepped in it. If you are married, you have to deal with your own baggage as well as that of your spouse. If you have children, you must succeed where some of the best people in the Bible failed.

But make no mistake: this isn’t something that any Tom, Dick, or Harry can do.

Having said that, I’ll stand by my point: Biblical counseling is a tool in the toolbox. And sometimes, in order to receive such counsel, one may need meds. Some may need meds for a small season (think post-partum), and others may need them for longer periods (think bipolar, schizophrenia).

But to say that it’s a question of either/or is a false dichotomy.

GOLD!

From Vox Day:

I, too, have written books, recorded music, and even written a few dozen pages of comic books. And I can declare, with more than a little authority, that the most important thing I have done for both the West and humanity is to marry Spacebunny and have children with her. MGTOW are every bit as wrong about the importance of their individual accomplishments as the college girl who is focused on her degree and her career instead of her family life.

I’m not against a woman getting a degree or having a career; at the same time, marrying and having children is a better contribution to Western Civilization than the career. That gives you a better chance at a real legacy.

Ravi Zacharias Has Some ‘Splainin’ To Do

During my Thanksgiving break, I saw a post from Amy Smith (Watchkeep) regarding Ravi Zacharias. She labeled him a “con-man”, linking to this article, which–among other things–highlights a sex scandal as well as what appears to be his false representation of his academic background.

Warren Throckmorton–who has done a good job exposing such fraudulence at Patheos–also weighed in on Zacharias’ claims of having a terminal degree (i.e. a PhD or equivalent doctoral degree).

Here are my thoughts on the matter:

(1) While I did not follow Zacharias, I occasionally read some of his work. And, to his credit, his writing appeared generally solid, and he is–irrespective of his pedigree–what I would call a good public apologist for the Christian cause. As a public speaker, he is telegenic and appealing, and he tends to be, at face-value, very persuasive.

I use the term public apologist to delineate between folks like Zecharias and Vox Day (author of The Irrational Atheist,  tour de force against Dennett/Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris), who appeal to the masses outside of academia, and the academic apologists, like Norman Geisler and John Lennox, who provide strong academic, peer-reviewable materials on the subject. The latter are credentialed whereas the former may or may not be academic specialists.

What bothers me here is not the quality of Zacharias’ work; on its face, that is actually, from what I have seen, very good. He does not seem to promote false doctrine and in fact appeals to skeptics in ways that few others have.

And that is what makes his academic misrepresentation so galling: he has discredited himself by claiming a pedigree that was not even essential.

As Vox Day has shown, you don’t need to be a credentialed apologist to score a knockdown against the High Church Atheists; in The Irrational Atheist, he steamrolled Dawkins & Co. by simply testing the veracity of their claims.

Some might ask whether Zacharias’ honorary doctoral degrees–which allow him to use the term Dr.–let him off the hook.

Of course they don’t. To use an honorary doctorate to promote yourself as an expert in a field is black-letter fraud.

Earning a doctoral degree is an arduous pursuit: you have to qualify just to get into a program; you have years of both research and rigorous study; you have a comprehensive exam; you have to defend your thesis in front of a cadre of academics who will hit you with questions you never thought possible; you have to publish your dissertation.

The process usually takes at least four years. Many candidates end up “ABD” (All But Dissertation), as they hit snags that cause them to fail to complete the degree.

To call yourself “Dr.”, while not having an earned doctorate degree, is dishonest.

(2) The sex scandal is a very big deal, and there is no pretty way to spin that. Among the narrative is his threat to kill himself if he is outed. The scandal, and his handling of it, reflect a profound spiritual deficiency, not to mention a severe lack of stability in his life.

I say this not to beat on people who have mood swings (bipolar disorder) or even who struggle with depression, but when you are threatening suicide in order to manipulate others to do your bidding, then the last thing you need to be doing is public Gospel ministry.

(3) Given (1) and (2), no reputable publishing house should be putting his books into print. No serious Christian should be going to his conferences; no reputable church should be promoting his materials or his events.

There are two kinds of false teachers.

(a) There are false teachers who promote heresy. These types may deny the Fundamentals–such as the Deity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the perfect life of Jesus, the Substitutionary Atonement, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, and His eventual Second Coming. Or they may deny the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Or they may deny the Trinity. Or they may promote New Age or Gnosticism. Or Prosperity Theology. Or Feminist Theology. This type of false teacher teaches things that aren’t compatible with Scripture.

(b) There are false teachers who live immoral lives. They may have sex scandals for which they must be held accountable. They may be fraudulent in their personal or business dealings. They may be malicious or spiteful or abusive. They may be given to greed or other vices (recreational drugs, excessive alcohol).

I don’t like to throw the “false teacher” label around haphazardly. There are many ministers with whom I have substantial differences, but whom I would not tag as “false teachers”.

But Zacharias, from the available public information, has a serious problem. He appears to have misrepresented his academic accomplishments. In the world of academia, that’s a very big flippin’ deal; I’ve seen professors–who had not completed their PhDs even though they listed it on their vitae–get fired on the spot for what Zacharias has done.

And his sex scandal, let’s just say he owes the Body of Christ–which has enriched his wallet over the years–a candid answer for his conduct.

Even worse: Big Christianity owes the Body an answer as to why they keep promoting his work and his events, in spite of his academic and moral record.

Tennessee Baptist Convention Demonstrates SBC’s Duplicity

FWIW: I have no problem with the TBC ousting FBC Jefferson City, which called a woman to be their pastor. I see no Biblical precedent for women pastors, I see plenty of Biblical admonition against women pastors, and the TBC has the prerogative to decide which churches with which they will associate.

OTOH, I do agree with Deb when she excoriates the SBC for their duplicity: the same SBC that has taken decisive action against churches that recognized gay “marriages”, and called women as pastors, refuses to show similar zeal toward stamping out child molesters and other predators from their ranks.

If the SBC would show the same sense of urgency about ridding their churches of pedophiles–and forcing churches to recognize their “family jewels”–the Church would be a safer place for women and children.

And no, this is not a “church autonomy” issue. Issues of autonomy do not include things that ought to be fundamental. After all, if a congregation denies the Deity of Jesus, I hope we all would consider that grounds for expulsion.

A church, for example, is free to determine the way in which they deal with immorality that becomes known. Whether they excommunicate an adulterer, or put him (or her) under discipline as he or she demonstrates repentance, it’s a judgment call. But what they cannot do is call immorality a good thing or ignore it altogether.

This is why churches that have decided to recognize gay “marriage” were given the left foot of disfellowship.

The problem, however, is that the SBC has done exactly that: ignored obvious immorality. After all, when the SBC decides to form a committee to investigate the sexual abuse epidemic in their ranks, but then refuses to fund the committee charged with that investigation, that is tantamount to ignoring obvious immorality.

To be fair, this is not just an SBC issue; this dynamic has been prevalent in other evangelical, particularly neoCal, circles.

But the SBC has the golden opportunity–I would suggest a golden imperative–to lead the way on this.

So far, their response doesn’t rise to the level of underwhelming.

RIP Jana Novotna

While the world revels in the long-overdue departure of that mass-murderous POC that I will not name on these pages, we get a sobering reminder of how life is not fair: 1998 Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna died at 49.

The story of her 1998 victory–her lone Major Championship in singles play–is itself an epic tale.

In 1993, Novotna–known more for her doubles play–was on the cusp of winning the Wimbledon Championship. Up 4-1 and serving at 40-30 in the 3rd set, she was only five points from victory.

She would double-fault, lose her serve, and then suffer the most epic meltdown in sports history.

The awards ceremony was hell to watch, as she cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent.

It would be four more years before she got another chance to win at Wimbledon. But once again, in 1997, she came up short.

Jana Novotna was 0-2 in Major championships. She was not known for her singles play to begin with. She was not supposed to be able to come back from two very nasty defeats.

No one, however, gave Jana Novotna that memo.

In 1998, five years after the most epic choke in sports history at the time, Jana Novotna won on Center Court, capturing the 1998 Wimbledon Championship.

Her road to the final was no picnic, either, as she had to beat Venus Williams–the older half of the most dominant sibling duo in the history of tennis–in the quarterfinal and Martina Hingis, who had beaten her in the 1997 final, in the semifinal.

In the final, Novotna prevailed over Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets, taking a tie-breaker for the championship.

Presenting her the trophy was none other than the Duchess of Kent.

While Jana Novotna would not go down as one of the all-time greats in the tennis world, she does stand out for one major accomplishment.

When you look at the worst meltdowns in sports history–from Greg Norman blowing a 6-stroke lead in the final round at the 1996 Masters, to the Houston Oilers blowing a 38-3 halftime lead against the Buffalo Bills, to the Atlanta Falcons’ gift to Tom Brady in this year’s Super Bowl–it is otherwise unheard of for teams and athletes to come back to avenge those defeats.

The only thing close would be the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who blew a 2-0 lead against the Seattle Supersonics in the 1977 NBA Championships. Julius Erving would run commercials in the Philadelphia area, saying, “We owe you one!”

The Sixers would come close two more times: in 1979-80 and 1981-82, losing each time to the Los Angeles Lakers.

But the Sixers would finally deliver: after signing All-Star center Moses Malone, the Sixers would storm the NBA in 1982-83, going 65-17 and then dropping only one playoff game en route to a sweep of the Lakers in the finals.

But even that pales in comparison to Novotna–a doubles specialist–facing down the stigma of the worst choke in the history of tennis, avenging her defeat on Center Court at Wimbledon.

Novotna was 49.

TWW, Piper, Manhood, Womanhood, and Gender Roles

While I have significant agreement with Dee with respect to her take on John Piper and his proclamations regarding “gender roles”, I think there is a larger set of questions that this begs:

(1) Just what are we talking about when we speak of “gender roles”?

(2) What does Scripture say about this?


As an endurance athlete–not a particularly competitive one, but one who completes large events–I belong to a cycling club and a triathlon club.

In the cycling club, I belong to a group that does a set of century (100+ mile) rides. The leaders include a husband-wife team. The wife–JBP–is a strong rider and does most of the leading, as she generally serves as the pacer for the group. She’s a badass on the bike. Her husband, BP, is fine cyclist in his own right, but she does most of the leading.

In the triathlon club, we have everyone from hacks like me–who enjoy the swim/bike/run disciplines but who aren’t all that competitive–to very competitive athletes who have qualified for the Boston Marathon and have completed many Iron-distance races, to some who are professional triathletes who are on the edge of qualification for the Ironman World Championships.

One of our best triathletes–EH–is a woman. She is among the fastest swimmers in the club, as she has swam the 2.4-mile Ironman swim distance in well under an hour, and she has knocked out the marathon-portion of an Ironman at a sub-9 pace in near-100F heat!

Are their physical makeups–and they are both very fit–unBiblical? I see no case in Scripture to suggest that there is anything wrong with what they do. (Both are Christians BTW.)

EH’s husband, a physician and Army veteran, is not as fast as EH in triathlon, nor is JBP’s husband as fast as JBP on the bike. In their cases, the husbands are not as dedicated to the sport as their wives are, although they are otherwise good athletes in their own rights.

But what does this have to do with “gender roles”? Everything.

While I am quite the patriarch–although I’m more of a laid-back sort–I see no Biblical requirement that I must be the primary breadwinner in the home.

In the Larijani household, that just happens to be the case. But, if MrsLarijani was the one pulling the bigger bucks, I would be the one staying at home with Abigail and teaching her how to prank everyone!

(A couple years ago, the day after the Air Force Marathon, MrsLarijani and I–unable to find another church to park for the morning–went to an OPC church in the area, The folks were pretty friendly, although they appeared to grimace when MrsLarijani told them that she had a job outside the home. That’s called being ridiculous!)

Nor do I see any Biblical requirement that there be only one breadwinner. In a perfect world, one would always be able to stay at home with the kids, but–let’s not kid ourselves–that is not always possible.

(And don’t come marching in here telling me the story about the homeless mother who homeschooled her kids–who now attend Ivy League schools on full rides–while living in a homeless shelter. The particular is not the general, so if you come here to promote such, I will cyber-flog you without mercy.)

Ergo, I present Gender Role Principle #1: division of labor is a flexible matter, and is up to the husband and wife to work out among themselves.

(The best time to work this out is before the wedding, so that way each will enter the marriage with a sober and realistic understanding of how those roles will likely play out.)

As I say that, some folks may raise the question as to whether this undermines a patriarchal family structure. My answer: of course it doesn’t. The issue of who has the higher rank in the house is not the same the one who has the higher income. You will search the Scriptures in vain for any such principle that equates one’s income to one’s level of authority in the home.

At the same time, it does beg the question of how authoritarian do the Scriptures require the husband to be? The answer: not very.

The positive command that husbands get: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” (Ephesians 5); the negative (don’t go there) command: “don’t be harsh with them” (Colossians 3).

Similarly, wives have a command: “submit to your husbands in all things as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5)

While the same passage carries a command of mutual submission, the particulars are commanded differently for the husband (love your wives as Christ loved the Church) and the wife (submit to your husband as to the Lord).

How should that submission work out? My answer: general deference by each, with the husband and wife working in collaborative manner, as the wife gives the husband the benefit of the doubt on the final decision unless there is something obviously immoral, abusive, fraudulent, or otherwise malicious in play.

The husband, while having the higher rank, must take care not to abuse that rank.

That means he ought not make decisions in a vacuum. When he got married, he accepted his wife into the role of help-meet, and that means–unless her faculties are medically gone–he ought to be working with her on their future, rather than being an autocrat.

In other words: husbands, don’t be douchebags.

(Similarly, it is not the job of the wife to veto everything and then demand “mutual submission.” In fact, she should be his “help-meet”, not obstruct him.)

In public, they need to treat each other with respect, not correcting each other every minute. If you can’t respect your mate, then one or both of you clearly have a theological problem.

If you, the wife, cannot submit to your husband, then it is on you to show that, Biblically, you are not bound to submit to him. Is he being abusive? Is he pushing you to go along with something immoral or fraudulent or malicious?

No? Then suck it up and submit to him as to the Lord.

If you, the husband, cannot love your wife, then you need to evaluate your reasons against Scripture? And keep in mind that, just as Hosea went to great lengths for Gomer, Jesus has gone to great lengths for a very imperfect Church that almost never has honored Him well.

In other words, my default answer is suck it up and love her as Christ loved the Church.

That means you ought not undermine each other. If there are issues, then deal with them in the home, not online or on camera. Don’t go airing your crap like a reality TV show.

So, how ought a husband lead?

First of all, he needs to be humble with respect to his rank. Even if she knows more than he does, he can still seek wisdom and understanding and be prayerful and humble. He can go to his pastor or his small group. He can ask his wife about relevant Scriptures and bounce questions off her. He can foster a collegiality that will pay off. He can research issues on the Internet, as good, conservative Bible commentary is plentiful.

And if she has any semblance of godliness, she will respect that humility.

Secondly, he needs to pick his issues that are worth standing firm on. Everything is not a life-death issue, and most of the time there is room for middle ground. And sometimes, decisions can be deferred–tabled–until each has had sufficient time to deliberate. BTW: most of the time, if you feel rushed, it’s probably a good idea to slow down and get your bearings.

At the same time, when you must be decisive, you need to stand your ground. There have been a few–and I do mean a few–times where I have had to mince no words and say, “God put me in charge; you accepted my leadership when you said, “I do”, and right now you need to follow me on this.”

That is rare. In 8 years of marriage, we’re talking less than once a year.

Thirdly, stay off the hard fastball.

Jesus administered a hard smackdown on his Disciples only one time that we know of, and that was his rebuke of Peter. While Jesus was very direct in His teachings and admonitions, hard rebukes were the exception, not the rule.

If she gets easily-offended, then ask her, “Given that this issue must be addressed–and given that it is my responsibility to confront the matter rather than let the fox roam in the vineyard–how can I ask it in a way that does not push your buttons?” (I’ve done this before.)

Sometimes she has an answer, other times she doesn’t. In those cases, I just say, “Look…I’m going to keep addressing the matter as I need to. If you have ideas on how to do this, we can keep having that conversation.”

(I tend to prefer the soft curveball for her, while reserving the high-inside fastball for almost everyone else.)

But as for “gender roles”, it’s not a question of who is stronger, although–as a general rule–men are physically stronger than women.

It’s about what God commanded.

So far, I’ve focused on gender roles as to how they ought to play out in the marriage, but we still have a remaining matter: what about gender roles within the Church?

  • Are women allowed to teach? If so, whom?
  • Are women allowed to preach? If so, in what capacity?
  • Are women allowed to hold particular offices, such as that of deacon or elder?
  • To what extent are women permitted to participate in the ministry of the larger Body?

With respect to Church offices, at first glance it appears that there is a default principle, in 1 Timothy 2:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

In that, you have a guiding principle: women are generally prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men.

Does that, however, preclude them from all teaching? If so, that would fly in the face of some of the most uber-patriarchal churches in America, as the ranks of children’s church, Awana, and women’s classes are dominated by…women teachers.

I would submit that the context merely precludes them from such roles with respect to men. In the context of the Garden, Adam–who was with Eve when the serpent engaged her–did not make any effort to correct Eve in the conversation. He did not interject, even though he knew the command. In fact, he went right along with her and ate of the fruit–as she was deceived–even though he knew better.

The curse of the garden, in turn, included a Patriarchy that is dysfunctional: she would have the desire to have what he has, and he would have the desire to squash her at every turn.

Paul was addressing that dynamic: that is why women are precluded from such offices–particularly overseer–in the Church. It’s not a preclusion from all teaching or authority, just that which involves any form of leadership over men.

Again, this has nothing to do with physical strength.

Nor has this anything to do with how smart anyone is.

Nor has this anything to do with “cultural context”, as the reasons given are theological and not cultural.

It has everything to do with (a) Creation and (b) the Fall.


Some might ask how this squares with what we see in Scripture, as women served as prophets (Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Anna), judges (Deborah), and deacons (Phoebe, Priscilla).

I would suggest that it squares just fine.

Prophets were messengers from God, and were not in positions of authority. The good kings–David, Solomon, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah–consulted them and heeded their advice. Bad kings–or kings that started good and went bad–ignored their advice and/or terrorized them altogether.

Judges were political, not spiritual, leaders who arbitrated cases on behalf of their fellow Israelites. At the time, the spiritual authority was vested in the priests, and women were precluded from that office. There was one instance where a woman ascended a throne in Israel: Athaliah. And that went badly for her.

One prophet–Miriam–challenged the authority of Moses, and was stricken with leprosy.

In the NT, Phoebe served under Paul’s leadership, and Priscilla worked in concert with her husband Aquila. The dynamic between them with respect to Appolos would be akin to MrsLarijani and myself working with anyone in my small group.

(I’m the teaching leader in my small group, although I tend to be low-key in my style. In other words, I don’t go running around saying, “shut up, I’m in charge here!” I’ve been with the group for years, and have proven myself over time. They defer teaching authority to me, but I’m careful not to abuse that. MrsLarijani is an active participant with me, although she doesn’t do the teaching.)

I guess what I’m getting at is this: in a marriage, there is lots of room for flexibility with respect for “gender roles,” even if you are a patriarchal Neanderthal like myself.

Ditto for within the larger Body, with one caveat: women are precluded from positions where they are over men.

The problem, however, is when folks like Piper insist on particular gender roles, especially in marriage, even though there is plenty of room for liberty–even within an otherwise patriarchal structure–for a husband and wife to work that out between themselves.