So this is the second time in the space of a few weeks that I will be responding to some comments by Aaron Renn, and so I thought I should explain at the front end what I am up to here. I like Aaron, and like his project, and appreciate his cultural analysis a great deal, and so I am eager for this to be filed under “iron sharpening iron.” When we get the iron sharp enough, we can then make our machetes out of it, stand shoulder to shoulder, and hack our way out of here. Where is “here,” you ask? The thickets of this kultursmog confusion, of course.
Abortion and Punishment
If you want to get up to speed on some of this, you can read my comments here and here. A few weeks ago, in his newsletter, Aaron mentioned me in passing, and introduced a couple of quotes from me, saying, “Surprisingly, the ultra-conservative Doug Wilson also argues that almost all women who abort their babies are victims . . .” And after quoting a couple of my observations, he then says this:
Again, what’s notable is not just that these high-profile pro-life organizations and people think women shouldn’t be punished for procuring an abortion, but their extreme reticence to assign even partial moral blame to them.Aaron Renn, Newsletter #60
This is actually a novel sensation, and I find that I am enjoying it quite a bit. I am an “ultra-conservative” and here I am, taking friendly criticism from the right. So I don’t mind telling you, my right flank is almost entirely unguarded and under-manned, and the troops over there are all in kind of a doodah.
Now if you read through these interactions, you will find that on the surface they are about whether any civil penalties should ever be assigned to the women who procure abortions, should abortion become illegal. That is the topic. But the issue that is looming behind that issue is a larger one, and it is that larger issue that I want to address here today.
That issue has to do with whether women sin at all, whether they are ever at fault for the failure of marriages, whether they incur guilt for procuring abortions, and so on. Do women sin, in other words?
In the intersectional woke fest that we have going on, to the extent we are talking about men and women, the patriarchy is the problem, and so women are the oppressed class. Men are the difficulty. Masculinity is toxic, and so on. Thus, trying to talk about the contributions that women make to the sum total of human misery is out of line from the get go. We don’t get to do that because of how cultural Marxism handles these things. The oppressed class is a justified class, and if you are justified, you cannot be charged with sin. This is the default assumption that governs the whole attempt to unravel the biblical sexual ethic.
In reaction, the manosphere (as it is called) has rejected this, with varying degrees of vehemence. The MGTOWs and the Incels have retorted that women are in fact the problem, and if we fixed them, what a fine world this would be. Other more moderate voices in the middle simply want to say that men and women both have their problems, and that men should be faulted when they sin and that women should be faulted when they do. Why can’t we all be responsible adults, and recognize that we are all people, and that when the man sins in a relationship, he is the one we should blame, and when the woman does, she is?
Since at least the publication of Reforming Marriage, I have been arguing for an approach that is completely different, but because of how all these doctrines have gotten tangled up with each other in our day, people in the second group above can think that I have been affected by the first group above. And what they are failing to distinguish is the difference between responsibility and blame. My view is not the feminist one (men are the guilty ones), and it is not the second one (women are the problem). My view can be called the covenantal headship position. Whether or not the man is guilty, the man is responsible.
I teach further that authority flows to those who take responsibility, and authority flees those who try to evade responsibility. Over the years, as I have done marriage counseling, I have found that this concept is the single most difficult thing for both husbands and wives to grasp. But here it is again. Blame or fault or guilt should be assigned to the one who committed whatever sin it is we are talking about. Responsibility, however, should be assigned to the covenantal head.
Distinguish The Two
Say that a naval captain gives orders to the navigator, who passes them on to the Officer of the Deck, who gives a command to the helmsman, who has three weeks left in the Navy. The helmsman does not do as he was told, and the ship runs aground. Who is the guilty party? The helmsman. Whose career is ruined as the responsible party? The captain’s. Moreover, this is the way it ought to be.
Say that a man buys a business because he thinks it a good investment. Say also that the seller of the business was clever enough to engage in some perfectly legal chicanery, which managed to hide $50K worth of bad debts, accounts receivable that were not going to be realized. Who is guilty of violating the Golden Rule? The seller. Who is responsible for that $50K? The buyer. Moreover, this is the way it ought to be.
Say that a marriage is deeply troubled. The presenting problems are that she is unfaithful, a spendthrift with credit cards, a bad mother, surly in attitude, and addicted to daytime television and Facebook. The husband has two jobs, does all the grocery shopping, two thirds of the cooking, cleans the house as best he can, and is eager for marriage counseling. Who is the guilty party in this marriage? Who is causing the problems? Obviously, the wife is. Who is the responsible party for the condition of this marriage? The husband is. Moreover, this is the way it ought to be.
For Things He Didn’t Do
Many men read something like this, and believe that I am doing what the feminists do, which is to blame the man for everything—for her adultery, for her reckless spending, for her laziness, and so on. No, these are her sins, and the blood of Christ must be applied to her in order for her to be cleansed and forgiven. She must repent of her sin. She is a responsible individual before God. I do not say that a husband is guilty because his wife is guilty.
I am saying that the husband is responsible. And when he responds to this in a masculine way, embracing a glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility, then authority flows to him. When he tries to evade that responsibility, then his practical authority evaporates. The message that modern men must have screwed into their hearts and minds is therefore this—take responsibility.
Many times traditional men try to take authority first. But authority cannot be taken, it can only be given. Responsibility can be taken, but nobody wants to do that. Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.
And why? Well, we say, in the grip of our compromises with egalitarianism, it doesn’t seem “fair.” We don’t like our wives dallying with egalitarianism, but we must remember that we did it first. We do it whenever we try to say “the woman thou gavest me, she . . .”
What should Adam have done? He should have taken responsibility at two distinct places. First, he should have stepped in between his wife and the serpent. The serpent was the threat, and so Adam’s assigned place was in between the threat and his wife. And then if Eve had still managed to eat the fruit, and Adam had not eaten it, and then they heard the Lord coming in the cool of the day, it was Adam’s responsibility to step in between the Lord and his wife, in order to say something like, “Lord, let the penalty fall on me instead.”
How do we know this? What the first Adam failed to do is precisely what the second Adam did do. The Lord’s death was the propitiation for our sins. God’s wrath was coming toward us, and Christ assumed the role of a covenant head, stepped in between, and took responsibility for things that He did not do. This is not some hole-in-corner doctrine. It is the absolute center of the Christian gospel.
And it is the center, moreover, that Christian husbands are commanded to imitate.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
Ephesians 5:25 (KJV)
Now Christian men are not so stupid as to pretend that they can somehow duplicate the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. We cannot duplicate it, and must not try. But we are commanded to imitate it. We are commanded to order our marriages in this fashion, which means that we must see our marriages as covenanted realities. Christ took responsibility for things He did not do. And so there is the absolute distinction between blame and responsibility. Christ is not personally guilty of doing the various sinful things that I have done. But He did bear the dreadful responsibility of that guilt.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21 (KJV)
This is what it means to be a covenant head. God did not look down on us and pair us off as roommates, roommates with sexual privileges, and then say something like, “You know, there are only two of them, and that means there will be tie votes sometimes. We will therefore need to make an arbitrary rule that the husband will be the one who breaks the tie.” That is not what this is. At all.
The husband is not the boss man. The husband is the covenant head. And with that position of covenantal headship comes covenantal responsibility.
To make it very concrete and plain . . . I, Douglas, am an individual before God, and when I sin, I must confess my sin (1 John 1:9). God speaks to me through His Word, and says, “Douglas, what was that?” My wife Nancy is an individual before God, and when she sins, she must confess her sin (1 John 1:9). God speaks to her through His Word, and says, “Nancy, what was that?” But when things are out of kilter in the Wilson home, whether because of the sins of Douglas or the sins of Nancy or some combination thereof, and God comes to speak to us through His Word, who does He talk to? He talks to the covenant head. He says to me, through his Word, “Wilson, what was that?” (Job 1:5).
There will likely be questions, so I leave the comments open. No trolls, please. Let us see what happens. And I will perhaps need to write a bit more on this.