Clunkity, Clunkity, Clunk

I am reliably informed that an article I wrote many moons ago is being recirculated and is out there causing some consterwebs on the Internation. The original article is here, if you are not full up on your spring quota of Wilson imbroglios.

If you don’t have time to chase these things down, I will summarize it here. The article concerned what a husband should do if a wife was living in an unruly and radically undisciplined way. The first three quarters of the article taught the husband what sins of his own he needed to be confessing before trying to deal with hers. After doing this, and after talking with her about it, remembering that he is the problem, if there is continuing failure or rebellion, I conclude by saying it is fully appropriate for the husband to ask for pastoral help. Those who have read me for any length of time will know that there are also many circumstances where I have taught that a wife should do the same thing, which is to call the elders.

But for various reasons, one of the central ones being my responsibility, this is being interpreted by some as a clarion call from me for a husband to call the elders if a wife forgot to rinse a cereal bowl before taking the kids to school. “And she didn’t even put it in the dishwasher!”

First, that wasn’t the kind of situation I had in mind at all. I did not have in mind any kind of normal life together. What do you do when the house is filthy, and the wife insists on leaving soiled diapers all over the house? What do you do when a wife runs up 75K on the credit cards, unbeknownst to her husband? What do you do when the kids are left in dangerous situations? I am sure many pastors could tell similar stories. That was the horror story kind of thing I had in mind.

But rereading it a decade and a half later, I don’t think I was clear. I don’t need to retract the point I was making at all, but I certainly should have done a better job making it. The writing seems now to me to have been formulaic, clunkity, clunkity, clunk, and well-placed to be misunderstood. That kind of prose has a “kick me” sign on its back. The more radical situations I had in mind were not made nearly clear enough, and a reasonable person could come away from reading just that one article of mine muttering jeepers to himself. And, that being the case, one hesitates to imagine what unreasonable people might do with it.

So for those who heard about my article, or just had that line about the dishes quoted to them, please accept my assurances that I don’t want anybody calling the elders because ordinary life is happening to them. I was writing about pathological situations. I wanted the pastoral help of the church to be brought to bear in an intractable situation, especially when the alternative is divorce.

At the same time, you can tell how politicized our age has gotten when an article addressing a small number of sinful wives is instantly read as “anti-women.” When I said earlier that many pastors could tell similar stories, I am sure that the hackles (whatever those are) of many feminist readers went up. How dare he say there are many such stories out there? Well, there are. There are also many appalling stories I could tell on some men. There is no bond of solidarity among men that incriminates them all when one man sins against his wife. Neither should there be any such bond when one woman abandons her calling and leaves her family in the lurch, or when a pastor notices she has done so.

At the same time, I do think that this is a place where reasonable critics have a point. But chalk it up to inept writing, not misogyny, and file this one under retractions.

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