Women Indirectly Teaching

John Piper recently explained in what ways he thinks women should be allowed to teach. I was a little surprised that there were any, but in short, women are allowed to be spiritual influencers as long as it isn’t obvious to the man who is learning from them that they are in fact learning from a woman. In some ways such blatant sexism is refreshing – he seems to be pretty obviously admitting his real motivations instead of hiding behind misinterpretations of biblical texts – but in other ways it is maddening that some people actually think this (without the excuse of the misinterpretations of biblical texts). Many others have written well about the problems with this thought, but I’ll give my two main responses.

But first, the Naked Pastor expresses it well in this comic:

What John Piper Sees

Fragile Male Egos

My first reaction as a man was that this is clearly to protect fragile male egos, a protection that to put it simply I don’t want. There’s apparently supposed to be some inherent shame for a man to admit that he learned from a woman, but if it is indirectly then it is safe because he can pretend that he is learning from a man. The problem clearly isn’t women having influence. Piper’s actually ok with that; he seems to admit that women do often have good things to say that men may not always say. The problem must be that men are so fragile that we can’t admit that we learned something from a lowly woman. It is hard to see any justification for this kind of thinking other than making sure men still feel like they’re the smarter sex even when we’re not.

As a man, this aspect hurts me the most every time I encounter it in Piper, Driscoll, or others of that extreme patriarchal strand. The fact that I have a penis does not mean that I have to be coddled. I don’t want to join in collective whining about no longer having automatic authority determined only by my genitals. I don’t want to be told that my sex is inherently closer to God. I don’t want to be constantly told that those pesky feminists are ruining everything. I am not that weak or that afraid. Yes, women when given the opportunity will teach us men a lot of important things. I am not afraid or ashamed of that.

Women, Sexual Distractions

From there I had to ask why it is shameful to learn from a woman in the first place. Fortunately Piper did hint at that, too, in his claim that her womanhood causes a distraction when it is direct. I don’t think it’s hard to know what he means by “her womanhood.” If the teaching itself is fine, the only difference is her body. This is unfortunately a typical obsession with sex for the neo-Reformed culture. They might even claim that they are looking out for this woman teacher’s best interests, keeping her out of a position where men will undoubtedly objectify her.

But in the process, he has successfully stated two things:

  1. It’s not men’s fault when we objectify women. We can’t help ourselves. Don’t even bother trying to teach us not to.
  2. Instead, it is women’s faults. It is their responsibility to make sure they stay out of any position of influence not because they are less capable but because boobs (said in a Barney Stinson voice). Stop being a distraction to our deep theological thinking by having a body.

This blame the victim mentality is rampant – not ubiquitous of course, and I applaud those who fight it – in conservative Christianity. Sometimes it is more subtle. Sometimes it is pretty obvious as in this case after you stop to think about Piper’s inconsistencies in thought.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.