Monstrous Regiment, Eh?

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Introduction

When John Knox penned his peppery critique of Bloody Mary, that infamous First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, he wadded his little booklet into an object the size of a baseball, suitable for throwing, and pitched it at the queen’s head, While his missive was thus in motion, the queen died and was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth I. So one of the first “congratulatory” messages to bounce off of her forehead was Knox’s recently published thoughts on the monstrous regiment of women. This line of thought displeased the queen, which surprised no one, and it must be frankly admitted that “displeased” was a state of mind that Elizabeth was pretty good at. It was something she knew how to do.

Now when they saw what had happened, a bunch of people went gaaakkk!!, including Knox himself, and sought to reassure the new queen that they had NOT been referring to her royal highness or personage at all. There was plenty of embarrassment to go around. Calvin was peeved at Knox, and the queen was really peeved at him.

The embarrassment was because Queen Elizabeth was a Protestant, unlike Bloody Mary, and the Reformers (including Knox incidentally) had a good handle on how important it was to fry the bigger fish first. As long as Queen Mary was burning Protestants, they were willing to bring all kinds of arguments against her, and for Knox this included the fact that she was a she. As soon as Queen Elizabeth assumed the throne, and the persecutions of Protestants ceased (for the most part), the Reformers, Knox included, were willing to lay off the Monstrous Regiment line of argument. But them willing to lay off was not the same thing as Elizabeth forgetting all about it. Having just assumed the throne, Elizabeth was interested in securing her place there, and it must be said that her security at the beginning of her reign was not nearly what it was at the end of it.

Fast Forward

The problem was not that Knox was a misogynistic outlier. Absolutely everyone in Europe at the time agreed with Knox on the merits — when the question was considered as an abstract argument. The issue was the bad political luck in the timing — something that Knox himself recognized. But if Knox had kept on beating that particular drum, then he would have been guilty of majoring on minors, frying the smaller fish first, making mountains out of molehills, and other expressions that run along the same line.

In other words, kind of like those conservatives who are complaining about Amy Coney Barrett’s conservative form of feminism. But in saying this, I want to draw attention to that word complaining, italicizing it even. For more on what I mean, see below.

So let us not forget where we are. Bloody Mary was replaced by Elizabeth, which was, any way you look at it, a massive improvement. Amy Coney Barrett is going to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the Supreme Court, which is, any way you look at it, a massive improvement.

My Anti Feminist Bona Fides

So I just said we must not forget where we are. Check. But conservative Christians must not forget who we are either. There are better ways for us to push back against the egalitarian paradigm than finding some evangelical woman who flew fighter jets for the Air Force, finding out that her politics are right of center, and then getting her to run for the U.S. Senate. More often than not, this is just another form of the slow surrender that the conservative movement in American has specialized in.

So when a conservative celebrates Barrett’s nomination, because he understands the importance of Roe going down, but also reminds us that we ought not to allow ourselves to be ratcheted into some sort of weird MAGA feminism, this is a good and important point. We need to remember it.

As for my people, children are their oppressors, And women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, And destroy the way of thy paths.

Is. 3:12 (KJV)

There are three governments that God has established among men — civil, ecclesiastical, and family. Male leadership is a flat requirement in one of them, that being the church. Male leadership is normative in the other two, those two being the family and civil society. Scripture flatly prohibits women holding office over men in the church (1 Tim 2:12), so there you go. For the family, wives are told to obey their husbands in everything (Eph. 5:24), but we also have the odd circumstance where a woman is the head of her household (Acts 16:15). That is not usual, but it is fine. For civil society, we are told that it is a curse when a society is under a “regiment” of women (Is. 3:12), but we are also given the odd Deborah.

To make it modern and practical, had I been a Brit, I would have cheerfully voted for Margaret Thatcher, and I would have done so on more than one occasion. And I also would have wondered, from time to time, if everything in the Thatcher household was ordered as it really ought to have been. My educated guesswork would have surmised something along the lines of no. But I am far more concerned about the slaughter of millions of infants than I am about the internal workings of the Barrett household. So go, Amy. That said, I am not about to applaud anything that goes contrary to Scripture just because it reinforces something else from Scripture.

In other words, we must keep our balance, but we must also keep our perspective. When everything is politicized, the temptation is to defend absolutely everything that your side does. But Christians have to be more careful and more deliberate than this.

But there is a certain stripe of anti-feminist who is simply ideological in the narrow sense. He has his doctrines all in a row, and if you say something he can’t understand, or has no experience with, he writes you off as compromised with feminism. Call it checklist masculinity, of the Dalrock variety. But Deborah really was a judge in Israel, and Bob’s your uncle. That Deborah passage does not establish what the feminists want it to, but it also fails if you want it to establish nothing whatsoever.

That said, the feminization of our politics has been, over all, a really negative thing. If the 2016 election had been conducted solely with the under-50 electorate, Hillary would have taken 63% of the women’s vote, and 43% of the men’s vote. I know, I know — 43% is terrible, and we really wonder about those guys. But the differential is also terrible, and quite scary. Biological sex matters when it comes to politics. It is something of a predictor.

Back to the Political Realities

In the mind of Deborah, the problem was not so much what Deborah did as what Barak did not do (Judg. 4:9). Barak did not get to kill Sisera himself — that would be left to a woman, to Jael, the wife of Heber. At the same time, lest we get above ourselves, Barak is honored in the New Testament as a hero of faith (Heb. 11:32).

In the meantime, with all these things remembered, I suggest that an appropriate response would be for conservatives, the next time they find they have filled up a football stadium, to start chanting, AAAmmee BARRett!! clapclap!! clapclapclap!!

Balance. And perspective.