A few days ago CBMW Women’s Studies professor Mary Kassian published a new post titled Does a Husband have the Authority?* The post follows the Duluth model framing headship as abuse, and the main image conveys the sentiment of the post quite well: Christian husbands are dangerous brutes.
The first question that came to mind when reading this post is who is Kassian teaching here? The possible options are:
- She is teaching other Christian women.
- She is teaching Christian men (directly).
- She is teaching Christian men via their wives.
When Kassian says that a husband has no authority, identifying the audience is critical to understand precisely what she is instructing. If the audience is Christian women, the instruction is to not feel pressured to submit to your husband. It is in fact a message to rebel against a husband that doesn’t meet Kassian’s standard of headship.
If the audience is Christian men, then Kassian is instructing Christian men in the proper way to exercise headship. Lastly, the third option is that Kassian is teaching Christian wives how they should instruct their own husbands in the proper way to exercise headship.
Clearly, Kassian is doing all three with this post. More importantly, the Bible makes it clear that she isn’t to be doing any of these three things. Titus 2:3-5 says that older godly women are to teach younger women to be obedient to their own husbands.
3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
Kassian is teaching the opposite of this. The other relevant Scripture to consider regarding Kassian’s post is 1 Tim 2:11-15:
11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
The traditional reading of this section of 1 Tim is that women are not to teach Scripture. Dr. Moo defines the kind of teaching the CBMW founders believed are restricted by Paul’s words above:
…we argue that the teaching prohibited to women here includes what we would call preaching (note 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the word . . . with careful instruction” [teaching, didache ̄]), and the teaching of Bible and doctrine in the church, in colleges, and in seminaries. Other activities-leading Bible studies, for instance-may be included, depending on how they are done. Still others-evangelistic witnessing, counseling, teaching subjects other than Bible or doctrine-are not, in our opinion, teaching in the sense Paul intends here.
Clearly Kasian is teaching Scripture authoritatively here, as she is setting herself as the authority on how headship can and cannot be practiced. However, the CBMW has a novel interpretation of who Kassian would be prohibited from teaching in this way, arguing that women are only prohibited from teaching men. This is based on the CBMW founders’ assumption that when Paul wrote in verse 14 that Adam was not deceived but Eve was, that he wasn’t talking about Eve being deceived but instead was making an oblique reference to the creation order, cryptically reiterating what he had stated clearly in verse 13 (emphasis mine):
…what Paul meant in 1 Timothy 2:14 was this: “Adam was not deceived (that is, Adam was not approached by the deceiver and did not carry on direct dealings with the deceiver), but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (that is, she was the one who took up dealings with the deceiver and was led through her direct interaction with him into deception and transgression).”
In this case, the main point is not that the man is undeceivable or that the woman is more deceivable; the point is that when God’s order of leadership is repudiated it brings damage and ruin. Men and women are both more vulnerable to error and sin when they forsake the order that God has intended.
…Paul’s position in the pastoral epistles is, then, consistent: he allows women to teach other women (Titus 2:3-4), 17 but prohibits them to teach men.
But even indulging the CBMW’s creative loophole for 1 Tim 2:12, Kassian is still clearly prohibited from doing what she did in that post. According to Dr Moo and the CBMW founders, Kassian is not to teach men, and this would include teaching men the proper way to exercise headship. Even worse, since Kassian’s site is primarily targeted at women, Kassian is inviting wives to teach their own husbands on the proper way to exercise headship. No matter how you look at Kassian’s article, she had no business writing such a thing under even the most libertine complementarian interpretations of Scripture. Only an egalitarian would argue that it is appropriate for Kassian to teach what she is teaching.
Putting all of this aside, there is also the massive problem of the message itself. Kassian is teaching the Duluth model of abuse, a model that was developed by feminists to eradicate the idea of Christian headship. Unlike Focus Ministries (the domestic violence ministry Kassian endorses), she doesn’t call it the Duluth model, but this is exactly what she is teaching in her recent post (emphasis original):
… this truth deserves to be stated and restated with clarity: It is not the husband’s right to force or coerce his wife to submit. Submission is voluntary on a wife’s part, and her choice entirely.
The misuse/abuse of authority is an abomination to God…
According to the Bible, a wife’s submission is her choice alone. A husband does not have the right to force or coerce her to do things against her will. He does not have the right to domineer. He does not have the right to pull rank and use strong-arm tactics.
According to Kassian, a husband “pulling rank” is guilty of abuse. If a husband makes what complementarians would call the final decision in cases where the two can’t come to agreement, or the “tiebreaker”, this is abuse. While the Duluth model calls this “using male privilege”, and Kassian uses the term “pulling rank”, we are talking about the very same thing. Moreover, like the Duluth model, Kassian is just fine with coercion to lead a spouse away from sin, so long as it is the wife coercing her husband. In that case it isn’t abuse at all; Kassian calls it submission (emphasis mine):
Submission is neither mindless nor formulaic nor simplistic. Submitting to the Lord sometimes involves drawing clear boundaries and enacting consequences when a husband sins.
It would be thrice wrong for Kassian to teach as she is teaching even if she wasn’t promoting the radical feminist view of marriage and headship (the Duluth model). And it would be wrong for her to teach the feminist view of marriage and headship even if she weren’t going against both Titus 2 and 1 Tim 2 in doing so.
This is all the worse because Kassian is both a Women’s Studies Professor and one of the original people involved with the founding of the CBMW in the late 1980s. This is her area of expertise, something she has positioned herself as an expert on for thirty years.
But realistically while complementarians claim to take the Bible’s instruction seriously (albeit with novel interpretations), what Kassian is doing here doesn’t put her out of the mainstream of CBMW and complementarian thought. While in theory it is clear that even the complementarian interpretation of Scripture prohibits what she is doing, in practice she is actually on the conservative side of current complementarian thought. Kassian is merely attacking headship and submission, she isn’t denying the authority of male clergy or attacking male pastors as androcentric chimps chimping like the new guard of complementarian women are doing.