On Friday, John Piper released a podcast in which he said “The Egalitarian Myth” is partially to blame for sexual abuse.
“Egalitarian assumptions in our culture and to a huge degree in the Church, have muted—silenced, nullified—one of the means that God has designed for the protection and the flourishing of women,” he said. The means he is alluding to there are what he calls the “special responsibilities” that men have, by virtue of their maleness, to protect women.
He mentions “competencies” in the episode often, to allude to the egalitarian ideas that responsibilities in a relationship should be determined by the strengths of the individuals rather than by gender. Complimentarians like Piper also believe that competence is a factor in relationships, but also that people are designed to maintain specific roles in relation to one another based on gender.
He alludes to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. He says that Adam failed to live up to his God-given responsibility to protect Eve in letting her eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of the many sins Jesus came into the world to redeem, Piper says, Adam’s failure in the garden is one.
“Men need to be taught from the time they are little boys that part of their manhood is to feel a special responsibility for the care and protection and honoring of women just because they are men,” he said.
He also said: “We have put our hope in the myth that the summons to generic human virtue with no attention to the peculiar virtues required of manhood and womanhood, would be sufficient to create a beautiful society of mutual respect. It isn’t working.”
The sum of Piper’s argument—that men should respect women—is good but the math is off.
In fact, to get to his point, he seems to stumble into the very same problematic theological ideas that have been harmful to women to begin with.
For centuries Eve has been blamed as the one almost solely responsible for what happens in the Eden story, and that has resulted in all kinds of oppressive policies in religious traditions and cultural stigmas against women. In keeping with that tradition, Piper notes that Adam was standing there with Eve but doesn’t explicitly conclude that Adam is just as culpable for partaking of the fruit for that reason. No. Adam’s sin, says Piper essentially, is apparently that Adam didn’t man up and swat the fruit out of Eve’s hand. In other words, Adam did not act as leader and head and protect—as patriarch.
Piper is close to right in determining that the problem with sexual abuse is a problem with masculinity. But it is certainly not that people are not adhering to patriarchy. We tried patriarchy already—like, for all of recent history, and almost every woman in recent history has a #MeToo story. So, Piper’s idea that the prevalence of sexual abuse is a recent development with the rise of egalitarian ideas just wrong. Patriarchal societies have always had #MeToo stories and have erased or silenced those stories.
He’s right that sexual abuse has to do with power. Which is why it’s weird that he wouldn’t see the connection between ideas of male dominance over women and the dominance inherent in sexual abuse. He’s fighting fire with gasoline here.
Moreover, he’s not accurately representing what egalitarians believe. A man who would rape or harass a woman is not being egalitarian. An egalitarian believes women are human beings worthy of the full dignity that is every person’s birthright and respects them.