The Lost Virtue of Sexism

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Last Tuesday night I spoke on the campus of the University of Idaho on the subject mentioned above. There were some protesters there, and I want to thank the UI for the excellent job they did on security. The protesters worked hard at being a nuisance (clickers, rustling papers, dropping things, etc.), but I was able to complete my talk without any problem. My wife just mentioned to me that we need a word for what they were doing, and so I nominate “totalitantrum.” My notes for the talk are below, but please note that there was a good bit more than this that went on. The video from the evening should be available soon, and I will let everybody when that happens.

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Thank you all for coming.

What I thought I should do—given the fact that there will be plenty of disagreement tonight—is to begin with something where there should be widespread agreement, and across the board.

This is the photo that ran in the Moscow/Pullman Daily News for the event.

There is a large collection of behaviors toward women which no responsible person would ever want to defend. I am speaking here of misogynistic and abusive behavior—rape, battery, molestation, harassment, gaslighting and so on. The admittedly provocative title of my talk was not trying to provoke anyone into thinking that I came here tonight in order to defend the indefensible, as represented by anything like that. 

So, thus far we agree.

So Why Defend Any Kind of Sexism?

In the secular lexicon, sexism is simply a bad thing. It goes without saying. So why would I undertake to defend the lost virtue of sexism? Should this not be considered to be an unprovoked attack on my part, disturbing the general tranquility of the Palouse?

This brings us to a second point of agreement, but it is not like the first one. I think that we can also agree that by the standards of our contemporary secular society, the Bible is a sexist book. Now it is not a sexist book in the sense of tolerating any of the intolerable and malicious things I mentioned earlier. That should be clear enough.

But it is a sexist book in some of the following ways. For example, wives are required to be submissive to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22). For another, women are not permitted to participate in the rule of the church—women are excluded from the pastoral office (1 Tim. 2:12). And for a third example, women are barred from combat roles in the military (Dt. 22:5).

So, if it is sexist to grant headship to the husband in marriage, and to limit leadership in the church to qualified males, and to keep women out of combat roles in the military, then we can all agree there as well. The Bible is sexist, at least by that standard.

So according to the standards of modern secularism, conservative Christians who accept the scriptural teaching on such things must be thought to share in the sexism. This is because faithful Christians consider the Bible to be the Word of God. It is like silver, purified seven times (Ps. 12:6). The Scriptures are the very exhalation of God (2 Tim. 3:16), and profitable for training in righteousness. Man should not live by bread alone, as Jesus testified, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4; Dt. 8:3).

Now put these two facts together, and the implication should be obvious. If the Bible is a “sexist” book, and I am now putting scare quotes around sexist, and the Bible is a perfect book, then it must follow that there is some sense in which these purportedly sexist attitudes are actually virtuous. We should endeavor to live by them.

This explains why I might want to talk about the lost virtue of sexism. I did not pick out a secular sin at random in order to arbitrarily make it into a virtue—in order to tick off you guys. Rather, the Scripture has been our sacred book for the last two thousand years, and within just the last generation or so, we have found ourselves declared to be “haters” simply because we want to continue to live as Christians who actually believe it.

Yes, But . . .

Now by this time, perhaps you feel like we are playing what I like to call paradigm bumper cars. We began by agreeing that when a man beats his girlfriend up, this is to be roundly condemned by everyone—and also rigorously punished. We all agree there.

We have now come to the place where our differences show. I would point to the fact that I believe that women are not dishonored by the aforementioned doctrines, but are rather highly honored. Before explaining this, however, I go into it knowing that what I call “honoring,” you might call “patronizing.”

But by the same token, there are things that you might applaud that I would think appalling. For a recent example, let us take the half time show at the Super Bowl, which some of you might consider “empowering for women,” but which I would consider a skankfest. You might think women are being elevated by an activity that I would regard as degrading. Even though you can shinny up it, a stripper pole is not the way of promotion for women.

I would point to the fact that the apostle Peter said that husbands were required to honor their wives (1 Pet. 3:7). A virtuous wife is a crown to her husband (Prov. 12:4), not a foot scraper for his muddy boots. A virtuous wife has a value far beyond rubies (Prov. 31:10). She is a treasure.

Yes, you might reply. She is treasure in the way that a porcelain doll might be a treasure. She is an artificial treasure placed on top of an artificial pedestal.

And there we are, looking at one another across a chasm. There are some abuses that we can all agree to call abuses, but when it comes to this, what I see as white, you see as black, and vice versa. Now what? Do we just shrug and go our separate ways? Do we return to our battle stations in the culture wars? Is it time to man the barricades again?

When We Agree and When We Differ

Whenever there is consensus or agreement, it is perilously easy for us to forget that we need to justify the standard we are using. This is because the agreement means that no one challenges us.

When we differ, both sides then insist that the other side produce their standard. By what standard? I have alluded to the standard I am appealing to already, but allow me to make it explicit. God created the heavens and the earth, and all the animals, and He gave mankind dominion over the earth. Mankind was constituted in His image, and this image included the inviolable distinction between male and female (Gen. 1:27). Because He was the one who created us, He has the authority to tell us how to live, which He has done in the Holy Scriptures.

There is one other thing, a crucial point. In the third chapter of Genesis, it describes how we rebelled against His authority, and it describes how our first parents fell into sin. Theologians call this the Fall, but it might as well be called the Crash.

Since Darwin, our secular culture has increasingly based everything on its own authority, on the words of man. So the ethical system of the Christians is based on the Word of God and the ethical system of the secularists is based on the words of men. Now it should be obvious that ethical systems are going to mirror or reflect the nature of the god of that system.

The triune God of Scripture is simultaneously holy and unchanging. This means that the standard derived from His character will also be holy and unchanging. This is why Christians are ethical absolutists. It is because our God is the Absolute.

The standard that secularists appeal to is based on the nature of mankind. But the contrast here is sharp. Where God is holy, man is unholy, and where God is unchanging, mankind is unstable, like water. So the secular standard is going to be unholy, and it is fickle. It is going to change, and when it changes, it will be from one form of unholiness to another.

This is why I am not all that concerned about declaring “sexism”—in the senses described above—to be a virtue. It is currently a “sin” in the secular lexicon, but it won’t be for very long.   

So Then, Come to Jesus

I would like to finish my remarks this way. The good news is that reality is not optional. God made the world, and He made the way the world must run.

We can decide that we don’t want to do it that way, but in our revolt against Him, we encounter difficulties almost immediately. If He made you a woman, this means it is His will for you to live your life as a woman. If He made you a man, this means He wants you to live your life as a man. Not only so, but He wants to forgive you your sins so that you might live as a forgiven man, or a forgiven woman.

Because you have been living in a way that is contrary to His appointed standard, this explains the accumulated misery and guilt. He is holy, and if our lives are unholy, and if His holiness pervades the whole world, then of necessity, we are going to be miserable. Sin is what we call it when we fall short of God’s impeccable standards. Fortunately, God has made a way out for you. This is what it is.

Our sins require the death penalty. God told Adam that the day he ate from the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, he would surely die. God told us through Ezekiel that the soul that sins shall die. The apostle Paul told us in Romans that the wages of sin is death. Because this was the penalty, and because we were unable to pay that penalty in a way that was followed by resurrection, God sent His Son into the world to make that way sure for us. Jesus was crucified so that you and your sins could be crucified with Him. Jesus was buried so that you and your sins could be buried with Him. And Jesus rose from the dead so that you—and not your sins—could come back from the dead with Him and in Him, world without end, forever and ever, amen.

So come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.