What's the flap over Carolyn Custis James all about...

One of our good readers finds it impossible to understand what all the fuss is about with Carolyn Custis James's article and words? Why are women and men opposing the quite-reasonable complaints Mrs. James makes concering the evangelical church's abuse of highly educated female theologians? Why are we opposed to women being theologians? Isn't that a good thing that every man should support?

Well of course. Where did anyone here ever say or even intimate that women shouldn't be theologians. But let's not allow this red herring to throw us off the real issue...

Our opponents have said they're "left wondering what the flap is all about?" The flap is all about young men at our denominational college being told by Carolyn Custis James that she thinks they ought not to seek a submissive wife.

At best, this is impious (directly contradicting Scripture) and unwise (since few things will have as large an impact on the contentment of a man's home and children as his being married to a submissive wife). At worst, this is rebellion against God's created order and direct commandment.

The flap is all about a woman listing her credentials in such a way that prominence is given to her evident disdain for, and denial of, domesticity--cooking, cleaning, and being what is called a housewife--when the world is filled with other godly women who pray each day that God will give them the holiness not to despise such menial tasks despite their high IQs, their deep biblical knowledge and understanding, and their yearning to play the man on the stage of the wider world outside the home and family confines.

The flap is all about a woman listing her credentials publicly, and placing at their center her purported ministry of helping men and women deal with the failure of the evangelical church to take women such as herself who are highly trained theologians seriously, instead "roping them off" at home with children.

If I was the pastor of this nebulous "evangelical church" and Mrs. James came to me and said this was her ministry, I'd immediately ask her to cease her ministry because I'd believe, based on what she's written, that those who called her to complain about the "women problem" would leave their conversation convinced the problem was even larger than they originally thought, and the problem they'd be even more convinced of would be the exact opposite of the real problem we face.

If they had been led by Mrs. James accurately to understand that problem as being wives suffering under husbands who won't discipline, love, or instruct their children, who won't love and serve their wives, who won't teach, preach, serve, or govern their church brothers and sisters; if they had been led by Mrs. James accurately to see that problem as women rebelling against their husbands; women refusing to wash dishes, cook, and set the table; women neglecting to nurse their elderly parents; women not giving a thought to welcoming the needy into their home; women turning away from giving birth to, and raising, children--instead choosing the childless lifestyle; wives being revulsed by sex and refusing to give their bodies to their husbands; women teaching men in Sunday school, leading men in small groups, and preaching to men in pulpits; women rebuking their elders and pastors publicly and privately, without shame; if those were the women problems in the evangelical church that Carolyn Custis James raised consciousness over, I'd be in her fan club.

But of course it's clear these problems are not the central thrust of Mrs. James' ministry. Rather, she's pushing women to become "rabbinical students," get theological degrees at academic institutions, and then to be treated with respect--the same respect the secular professional world would grant them.

The flap is all about creating a crisis in the PCA over women theologians without defining that crisis in any way that makes practical the solution to that crisis. And of course, I don't think for a minute that this absence of proposed solutions is an oversight. To demonstrate this, let's ourselves think about solutions for a minute. If, as Mrs. James maintains, the PCA is filled with women professionally trained to be theologians who aren't being allowed to exercise their trained theologian gifts (I don't see how anyone can deny that this is the heart of Mrs. James' complaint), then let's have at it.

Women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should catechize their children. But some of these women are single, others are childless, others have children who have left home, and there has to be more than that for these competent and capable women.

Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should get involved in their church's Sunday school program teaching children. Well yes, but there has to be more for these women. Why rope them off among the children?

Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should dig into the many teaching possibilities within their church's youth ministries. Well yes, but there really aren't that many opportunities in the church's youth ministries because our youth pastors and sponsors have found it's normally better for men to teach, given the natural respect men command from boys and other men. And since we're evangelical and not mainline churches, God has blessed us with a number of men willing to do this teaching.

Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should select and promote good books through the church library and book table, also writing reviews of those books for the church newsletter. Well yes, but again, that's roping them off into the safe library environment.

Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should teach women's Bible studies, lead women's prayer meetings, and speak at women's retreats. Well yes, but why only women's bible studies and retreats? Why not men's Bible studies and retreats?

Because the Bible prohibits it. How is it possible for women to teach theology to men without exercising authority over those men? What possible construct is there in which to understand the teaching of theology without that teaching being authoritative?

And you see, there's the rub. Right there, the solutions proposed begin to scratch Mrs. James where she itches but they also cross the line of what the church has ever done throughout her history. Right there we know we've finally hit pay dirt for Mrs. James and her anguished evangelical sisters, but right there we also know we've moved from obedience to disobedience.

Isn't this the reason Mrs. James does not propose any solutions to the problem she's trumpeting? Any solutions that satisfy her or her evangelical sisters who spend time complaining will not be satisfactory to those godly women and men who understand the spirit of the age and refuse to allow women to exercise authority over men.

Let's have a little honesty here. The problem the evangelical church has with all her women who have received academic or "rabbinical" training in theology is not that there aren't enough venues within which their gifts may be valued and used. No, the venues are almost limitless, and the Church has always given her greatest love to women who serve in those venues--the nursery, the sick room, the leper colony, the hospital, the nursing home, the Sunday school room, the vacation Bible school classroom, the Pioneer club, the sewing circle, the kitchen, the cry room, the women's Bible study, the women's prayer meeting, the Neighborhood Bible Study, the wedding shower or baby shower devotional, the MOPS group, the Backyard Bible Club, the birthing room, the orphanage--and the list goes on and on and on and on and on and on....

But in the background we can hear, "Dammit, that's not what I want--I want more! Why should I be forced to hide my most excellent gifts underneath such partronizing, such stultifying bushels? What gives you men the right to rope off my gifts into such obscure cubbyholes? I want out!"

Well yes, but there's the rub. It's not us men who are roping you off, but rather the Word of God. It wasn't the Apostle Paul, but the Holy Spirit Who said that women were not to exercise authority over men because Adam was created first, and then Eve. But it is us men who are called to teach and preach and practice this rule in the church, and you are making it awfully difficult for us to do so in a gentlemanly way. We don't want to beat up on any woman. It never looks good. But the Apostle Paul often didn't look good himself, so if you keep pushing us we'll have to say "no" to you. Please back down. Please don't force the issue. Please don't look at work with women and children as demeaning. Please be content with the strengths and weaknesses God made intrinsic to your sex.

"Listen, buddy. You just don't get it, do you? You're old and in the way. You're prehistoric. You're a brontosaurus. You're trying to turn back the clock but it's too late. The world has passed you by and you haven't noticed? Men far superior to you in biblical knowledge and rabbinical training disagree with your small-minded and insecure boundaries for women's ministry in the church. J. I. Packer believes women may preach but the PCA doesn't allow it. Why not? Wayne Grudem believes women may teach Sunday school and lead small groups but most PCA churches won't allow it. Why not? R. C. Sproul invites Joni Joni Eareckson Tada to speak at his conference but most PCA churches won't allow women to speak at family retreats. Why not? John Armstrong invites Kay Arthur to share the podium at his conference, and her message is on the Trinity but most PCA churches would not invite Mrs. Arthur to give the messages at their missions conference. Why not? Moody Bible Institute has Jill Briscoe preach to the pastors gathered there for Founders Week but the PCA has never invited Carolyn Custis James or Susan Hunt to preach to the General Assembly. Why not?"

Well, because even at this late date, we love God and His Word, we are surrounded by wives and mothers and daughters and mothers-in-Israel who also love God and His Word, and we have taken vows to obey Him and His Word even at cost to ourselves, including appearing to be insensitive, insecure, ungentlemanly, rigid, authoritarian, priggish, tight, truly-reformed, censorious, and so on.

God has commanded women not to exercise authority over men and so we won't do these things even when it means we're despised.

But we'll let you in on a secret: our wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers don't despise us. They honor us, and precisely for this very aspect of our faithfulness to God. If you don't believe it, ask them. And by the way, they know as much theology as you do and it was their mothers and fathers who taught them.

Finally, they have lots and lots of children and will keep bearing and adopting more. Thus, I trust you won't judge me rude if I point out that the rest of this story has already been written.

Comments

Brilliant.
Thanks again, for being our Azariah on this and not letting it slide. 2 Chronicles 26:16-19.

"problem as being wives suffering under husbands who won't discipline, love, or instruct their children, who won't love and serve their wives, who won't teach, preach, serve, or govern their church brothers and sisters"

Thank-you for recognizing this side of the problem! I'm not saying that us women don't have anything to work on in this whole mess - but so often, guys just DON'T lead. Or, they'll go ahead and "lead" but miss the whole love / servant / shephard half of the equation.

How do you get guys to lead? My roommates and I have several Christian guy friends - and there is an overall lack of leadership. So we sit and try to be patient and hope that sometime somebody will point out to them that they're, um, guys and that kind of means that they have to be the ones taking the initiative. And that there should be some element of that in "just friendships" as well. It's hard to know how to encourage them to lead, without being pushy or bossy (and thus leading!). And how much initiative can a gal take (as in inviting a guy over for dinner - group things, not one-on-one)? I'm assuming we're not command to be passive - but that means there's a (elusive!) balance . . .

And then there are those of us who have seen (even / especially in the church) those men who have led - but missed out on the love / serve / shepherd bit. And that makes it extremely difficult to even consider marriage as a good thing, when that's your picture of what it means for a guy to lead and you to submit.

-Jess

Jess asks, "How do you get guys to lead?"

Jess, if you ever find an answer that you can put in a bottle, you'll be rich for life!

If I knew all the answers to that, it would probably be a thick volume. May I suggest one here, though, that is largely overlooked (I think) ...

Young men do not lead because the optimal environment for them to learn this is missing. That environment in which they may learn leadership is the company of older, mature men. Young men "catch" so much of what good leadership is all about through mimicking the model of good leaders with whom they spend a lot of time. Those environments have pretty well vanished in our society.

Where were they before? They were found in professions, or ventures, or activities which were populated mostly by men. Think of the difficult manual labor projects attending the harvesting of crops in an agrarian community. This is how and where my father-in-law and my father found themselves literally rubbing shoulders with much older men, from whom they simply absorbed so much of what mature masculinity (including leadership) is all about.

The army used to do some of this. The historically masculine professions as well (medicine, law, accounting, the seminaries). All these are now so well populated by women that their ability to provide this "masculinizing" environment is utterly abolished.

Evangelical churches mostly do not provide these environments either. What kind of model of masculinity and leadership can a male pastor provide in an ecclesial community for whom women are deemed just as effective in that role as a man? A really macho male pastor won't do, you see, because as far as leadership is concerned (in these kinds of churches) his masculinity is discounted as a feature of his leadership (however that is construed).

Co-ed schools usually exacerbate the problem. Most faculties are heavily tilted toward women in high schools, almost exclusively feminine in grade schools. I have four daughters, and I have watched every high school commencement ceremony they have passed through. In the "awards" section of these programs, where honors are passed out (scholarships, accolades, etc.) the ratio of men to women recipients has been 10 to 1 in favor of the women.

Are the boys that retarded? Well, actually, yes they are, though not in a biological neurological sense. They've never been able to make the transition from boyhood to young manhood, because that's a trasition no woman can effect, and no man has ever attempted with them. By the way, any young Christian women who suppose that THEY can facilitate this transition are sure to join the benefactors of their attentions in the ditch.

This is a problem that has no quick solution. No weekend seminar, no special "class" one semestger in a church CE program, is going to fix this. It's not just the young men who are the problem. It's the generation of men who ought to be bringing them along who are AWOL as well, many of them badly underdeveloped as well.

For what it's worth, I'm working with other men to provide such an envirnment in a church context, based on a very promising demonsration project going on for over a year now. Perhaps after another year I'll have more data on how it's working after we've attempted to replicate it in additional venues.

Fr. B

It's time for the church to teach men to be spiritual leaders. I'm dealing with some of that on my blog site.
At the same time, it is past time that we take a stand on this issue before it's too late, if it isn't already!
Rattlesnake 6

This is one the best blog posts I've ever read.

I knew Carolyn James before she added the Custis. She was Frank's wife and a rip-roaring inspiration to the young women who met her. Man, I hate what the limelight does to people.

After having read the gamut of posts made on this site regarding two real people (Frank and Carolyn), it's difficult for me to restrain comment. I appreciate comments made by Keith and Chuck (among others who's names I don't recall at the moment) who are interested in maintaining the dignity of our brother and sister, Frank and Carolyn. It seems as though Carolyn has been severely misread and misunderstood on this blog. While many seem to think that she despises household work and childrearing, it seems to me from her book When Life and Beliefs Collide that she is fully supportive of women who are given the opportunity by God to assume those roles for a season of their life--but who can be a good wife and mother without solid theological grounding? She contends that women are often told that 'theology' is none of their business, but that this belief is based on false assumptions about theology. Just as Valerie and Elizabeth have pointed out, theology is what happens when women come together to talk about life with God--subtle or not. But when we don't look at such conversations as theology, sometimes we mute our desire and ability to know and understand more. Furthermore, from conversations I've had with Carolyn I can heartily say that she doesn't view women's ministry as somehow less important than men's ministry. I can see how this implication might be drawn from her writings, but she believes that we are to do whatever our hands find to do and that church ministry starts with the person in the pew next to us. Naturally, recognizing the full import of theology for women's daily lives, it seems to me that she would desire for women to be able to fully engage the church with the full range of their gifts--from hospitatility to service to greeting to teaching to mentoring. All of these things should be happening, and happening among the women. But in a church that is to united as the Son is united to the Father, why would the full benefit of these gifts, which are intended for the entire body of Christ, be kept from directly impacting the entire body of Christ as much as possible? I think women are in no way marginalized here, but are upheld as full members of Christ's body who each have something to offer both the men and women as well as their children within the church. Certainly the offices of elder and deacon are not necessary to make this happen, and I don't think our seminaries are telling our young women that they ought to expect to be in an ordained position once they graduate. Rather, the questions are: how can I be a faithful member of Christ's church in light of the gifts he's given me to steward? This includes my responsibilities as wife, possibly future mother (Lord willing), friend, Sunday school class member, nursery worker, evangelist, etc. If I'm loving my husband, doing nursery work, involved in Sunday school, in an home group, and actively pursuing non-Christians in my community and am able and feel called to offer more, why not? I ask honestly and humbly--please give a thoughtful, gentle answer.

Furthermore, could someone tell me where or when Carolyn told Christian young men not to pursue submissive wives? I attended the Kaleo Conference at Covenant College and heard each of her talks, and don't recall her saying anything to that effect--the only thing I can imagine being interpreted that way is her admonition to young men not to look for a woman who will avoid challenging him under the guise of 'submission.' At best, the accusation is a twisting of her words. She does describe submission as being an entire manner of life between husband and wife, so that actively a wife might seek to give herself and her gifts to her husband for the benefit of his own calling from the Lord. It's not event-based, but relationship-based -- this goes farther in honoring one's husband and fulfilling one's call as wife than many other evangelical explanations of submission I've heard. Again, please consider these things with kindness and gentleness, seeking to understand one another in love.

And for the record, Carolyn still is a rip-roaring inspiration to the young women who meet her--it's a wonder what the limelight *doesn't* do to some people.

>Furthermore, could someone tell me where or when Carolyn told Christian young men not to pursue submissive wives?

If you refer to the comments under "Woe to those who call good evil..." you can read the comments of the young man to whom that statement was made.

Thanks, David, for pointing that out. That's the discussion I'm recalling, and in the question and answer time she qualified what she meant by 'submission.' When she told the young man that he ought not first be looking for a 'submissive wife,' she explained what she meant by saying young Christian men ought not want wives who won't challenge them, who will be passive and remain silent on matters of importance in their lives. It's unfortunate that she's been so severely misquoted. I hope someone will be responsible enough to listen to the recordings once they're available at kaleocenter.org in a week or so. Again, Carolyn has a great explanation of what Biblical submission is if we are to pursue honoring our husbands as the church honors Christ--there's doesn't seem to be anything passive about it. Furthermore, can someone substantiate the dismissal of her interpretation of 'ezer' as 'warrior'? So far I've only seen it mocked, which seems irresponsible for Bible teachers.

It is irresponsible to mention speaking at a conference in the same paragraph as preaching in a pulpit. The two are very different and if you have lost touch with that you may be a part of a bigger problem in the church. When Joni Tada is invited to speak for Dr. Sproul, she is not so much a teacher as one who shares her experiences and the comfort she finds in scripture. She does not, as far as I recall, do any sort of expository teaching. This is an important distinction. There are many women whose opinions I am glad to hear, however, when I learned a woman would be leading my seminary class in a time of worship during class I chose to skip that worship time.

What do you do with Henrietta Mears who taught a Sunday school class whose students included Dr. Bill Bright and several other men who, because of her influence, went on to impact the world for Christ in a huge way?

Add new comment