When I first pointed out the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s discomfort with headship and submission, a discomfort which goes back to their founding document, Sunshine Mary explained:
Understand that when Christianity Today (the most influential publication in American evangelicalism) wants the conservative, complementarian, anti-feminist point of view, they ask CBMW for a statement. CBMW is seen as radically anti-feminist by virtually all evangelicals. That should tell you something right there.
However, if you read a bit of their site it becomes very clear that they are essentially a Boundless clone*, except with extra Driscoll. That is, they are very much about modern Christian culture, but where Boundless has Stanton teaching that God made women to lead men, CBMW replaces this with a special emphasis on hammering Christian men.
For a sense of what Boundless with extra Driscoll looks like, CBMW promotes dating as a gift from God, similar to marriage, and tells young men they have biblical obligations which don’t actually exist in the Bible. On the most popular article on the site, Pastor Jason Dees explains:
Dating doesn’t exist to have someone that you can hang out with or “make out” with on the side, dating is designed for the pursuit of marriage.
I’m not against dating, but suggesting that it is something given to us by God as His designed path to marriage, and not (in the form we know it) a very modern invention is extremely problematic. In part two of the series, Pastor Dees reinforces this view of dating as a gift from God (emphasis mine):
If you are trying to find ultimate fulfillment in dating and marriage you never will. God designed you to find fulfillment in him above all else. Dating and marriage are great gifts, but they are not able to give you the ultimate fulfillment that you desire, only God can do that.
In part one of the series Pastor Dees explains that Ephesians 5 applies not just in marriage, but from the moment a man asks a woman out on a date:
RULE NUMBER THREE: Always return your date home “more holy” than she was when you picked her up.
This rule really applies more to men than it does to women, and it is something that my college buddies and I used to tell each other whenever we took a girl out. Ultimately people date in order to pursue marriage (see rule #2) so then our dating should be a reflection of marriage. The call of men in scripture (Ephesians 5) is to wash our women with God’s Word so that she might be holy and without blemish. Is that your goal when you take a girl out? To help sanctify her? That is what God desires of you every time you go out with a girl (men) and women that is what you should desire when a guy takes you out.
Keep in mind that the CBMW isn’t comfortable with headship and submission within marriage, yet they are quite eager to cherry pick parts of it and apply them outside of marriage. However, this sense of moral certainty about (invented) biblical obligations for men vanishes when the topic is (actual) biblical restrictions on women. Not only is the CBMW ambivalent on headship and submission, but they are even skittish when it comes to less controversial subjects like the prohibition against women as pastors. In Don’t Be Sidelined by the Gender Debate, Trillia Newbell writes (emphasis mine):
I realize my experience may not be shared by all women. Perhaps you have not been able to serve for various reasons. Maybe you desire to serve as a pastor and chafe against passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12, where the apostle Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.”
No matter your interpretation of this much-debated passage, Scripture also teaches us that if God has put you in a church, he wants you to serve.
The debate over gender roles can distract women from serving with all their might in the church. It’s tempting to focus on one aspect of church involvement closed to women rather than rejoice over the hundreds of ways we can and should be serving. If I am not a pastor, does that mean my service means less?
Here the CBMW openly acknowledges that a large part of the women reading are in rebellion against clear biblical instruction. Instead of urging them to repent, it tells them to find other positions of leadership and influence within the church. The whole focus is on how “debated” clear instructions of the Bible are, instead of addressing the rebellion at the root of this “debate”.
This sense of hammering men on the one hand and getting skittish about what the Bible actually says about the roles of men and women (the organization’s specialty) isn’t just in one or two articles, but pervades their writing. As I referenced above, this goes back to their very founding. You can also see this in what is their fifth most popular post, Summaries of the Egalitarian and Complementarian Positions. Understand that this isn’t an explanation of why biblical roles are correct and modern egalitarian views are incorrect. It is a summary of why some people prefer one view, and others prefer another. There is no introduction or conclusion explaining the importance of following what the Bible clearly says over the rebellious desires of feminists. In fact, there is no introduction or conclusion at all. The first half is the case for egalitarianism, with a laughably weak rebuttal, and the second half is the case for complementarianism, also with a rebuttal. For example, in the section explaining egalitarianism it trots out the canard that the Greek word Paul used for “head” didn’t mean leader, it only meant “source”. This has been thoroughly debunked by a member of CBMW’s own board, but it is presented as winning (or at least ending) the debate:
D. Objection: When Paul says that the man (1 Cor. 11:3) or husband (Eph. 5:23) is the head of the woman, doesn’t he mean that the man has the position of authority and responsibility over the woman?
Response: No, and this can be shown by looking at the word translated as “head” (Gr.: kephale). This term is widely used in Greek literature outside of the NT to mean “source” (as with the “head” of a river). Therefore, what this means, then, is that woman owes her existence to the fact that man was created first and, in his incomplete state, God made from him the woman. The woman, then, is “sourced” in man. As such, this word does not suggest, as many think, that man is has some rightful authority over woman.
Only much later, at the very bottom of the long even handed post, is it pointed out that this claim is bogus. At any rate, for an organization founded on a central idea to be so completely uncomfortable with boldly arguing for that very idea is bizarre. An analogy would be an organization founded to support heterosexual marriage against the drive for acceptance of gay marriage, which instead of clearly making the case for heterosexual marriage and explaining why those who want gay marriage are wrong, would publish a lengthy treatise on the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, being careful not to be seen as biased on the issue. With friends like the CBMW, biblical marriage needs no enemies.
Ultimately though this is really an indictment of modern Christian culture far more than it is about the men and women of the CBMW. Sunshine Mary is right when she says that the CBMW is seen as radically anti-feminist by virtually all evangelicals. This is because being vocally conflicted about biblical marriage roles is the far end of the spectrum here. While the CBMW is afraid of its own shadow when discussing its namesake issue, by not being either overtly hostile or silent on biblical teaching on men and women it is truly radical in modern Christian culture.
*The similarity to Boundless isn’t an accident, as the CBMW hired Steve and Candice Watters, the husband and wife who created Boundless, to lead the family section of CBMW.