My journey into differentiation in the cross-gender friendship conversation took an unexpected crash course the fall of 2009 when I encountered a quite common scenario among white evangelical male leaders: male aggression and spiritual bullying to solve a conflict.
We ended up in this huge gridlock that went nowhere. If you haven't read the rest of the series, the beginning is here.
Dave and I have two different paradigms of what intimate, shared togetherness looks like among leaders within the local church. He has an other-validated or submission-approval paradigm (what I described for hypothetical reason as a one big boat for 12 leaders). Meanwhile, I see a self-validated or a self-differentiated model where each of the twelve leaders have their own boats and are committed to stay near in togetherness in distinctive boats.
Let me give you Dave’s own summary of this gridlock. It’s not from his new book, but is found in a previous book he co-authored, Prodigal Christianity.
This gridlock opens the book in Introduction. The friend and coleader mentioned in the beginning is yours truly:
“A few weeks later, we started hearing concerns— not so much about what was expressed that evening but about a larger agenda carried on by one of our friends and coleaders at the Vine. Like all of us, he wanted to overcome the hurts, the abuses, and the confusions so prevalent in our culture surrounding sexuality. For him, this meant advocating a style of friendship that touched a lot of nerves. As a means toward sexual redemption and healing, this brother was encouraging deep friendships between men and women, even between married men and single women, and vice versa. What made matters worse was that he liked to use the word intimacy to describe these friendships. We knew what he meant. Others didn’t. To him this was a way of exposing illegitimate sexual boundaries and breaking down overly sexualized situations, all as a witness to God’s great redemption of our sexual brokenness and deep calling into relational intimacy. But for many in our church, this looked an awful lot like flirting with sin and possibly a path to destruction for fragile marriages. The whole debate caused quite a ruckus in our community.
As the conflict simmered, two typical responses quickly emerged. The first was tolerant conversation: “Let’s just talk about it. Let’s build relationships of trust where differences can be appreciated.” But the opposite response of dogmatic pronouncement came just as swiftly: “Let’s see what the Bible has to say and just be clear in guiding everyone in this very important issue!” Two camps promptly appeared. One believed it was merely a matter of opinion and thought the solution was to be found in tolerance. The other worried that our very integrity as believers was on the line and strayed into absolutes. Sometimes the two responses were ironically mingled into a single dogmatic pronouncement, “You have to tolerate!”
In his neo-anabaptist model of mutual submission (one big boat for 12 leaders), Dave thinks there are only two ways of life: mutual submission in the big boat or excessive individualism. He regularly lumps progressives, conservatives, and mega church ministries as infected with the excessive individualism with poor spiritual formation.
Furthermore, because of his intense commitment to mutual submission, Dave thinks that all issues will eventually work out under mutual submission. His one big boat for twelve leaders requires his position because the one big boat defines all togetherness.
If there is intense anxiety or anxious gridlock that is described above in the boat it requires submission because Dave has set up the terms that are under a tweaked model of John Howard Yoder system of submission.
Meanwhile, in my 12 boats for every leader, I don’t except alternatives of either mutual submission or excessive individualism. Differentiated closeness between the twelve leaders in their respective boats stand in between excessive individualism and enmeshed congregations or enmeshed communities.
In the ten years that I have come to know Dave, I have yet to see him come up with a big boat model of mutual submission that can discern what is healthy togetherness versus Edwin Friedman’s “herding” where forces of togetherness triumph over an individual for the sake of anxious immaturity.
I have yet to see him discern what is healthy community versus enmeshed communities, or the spiritual-psychological pressure to conform to the one with the most spiritual-emotional power in the big boat. He surely doesn’t address these issues in Faithful Presence.
In the two paragraph summary of what Dave described what happened, the gridlock where “ruckus” was happening, he describes what happens in one big boat when the anxiety of submission-validated togetherness is disturbed.
While I appreciate the kindness and goodness showed to me in the beginning paragraph, Dave does not describe after the two paragraphs that he became a spiritual bully over me. With the typical male aggression, he sought to resolve this anxious gridlock by squeezing submission out of me. He kept on addressing my healthy skepticism with “submit” to the local church. “Submit” your agendas, “submit” the publication of your book.
So, in this description of what happens, Dave leaves out how he stood tall in his big boat and urged me to submit. Now to be fair, I’m quite sure he was urging those who disagreed with me the same thing.
But let’s press deeper into evangelical patriarchy, male aggression to solve conflicts by going back to this gridlock he describes. One of the big things about the 12 boat for every leader (differentiated closeness) that helped me so much as I was seeking to maintain my boundaries within my own boat, was my imaginative empathy toward women who were boundary-breakers, trailblazers, pioneers, and women who wanted to be their best selves for Jesus. I've mentioned this before but I return in light of Dave's two-paragraph description in his previous book.
Through the eyes of empathy, what if it was Rosa Parks who had stirred up the “ruckus” within the community by seating on the seat. Replace Dave’s reaction to the loaded word, “intimacy” with Rosa talking about “justice,” “freedom,” or “equality.” And do you see how Dave would have lumped her into one of the polarizing groups with her expressing the need for “tolerance” and his solution to dismiss that?
If we can empathize using our imagination by thinking of women who felt led by God to disturb codependent peace or shallow peace, or social order within a male-centered Christendom, we see how Dave’s system has no grounds to empower a woman—“a troubler of Israel” in the one big boat. It would be stuck in this intensive anxious gridlock.
In Dave’s system of submission, every individual is in the big boat. Every individual is “under” the system of submission. When I came across the following quote two years ago in the book Silencing the Self, I couldn’t help but imagine empathy for women under Dave’s one big boat:
Contributors Dana Jack and Alisha Ali write:
“The women detailed how they began to silence or suppress certain thoughts, feelings, and actions that they thought would contradict their partner’s wishes. They did so to avoid conflict, to maintain a relationship, and/or to ensure their psychological or physical safety. They described how silencing their voices led to a loss of self and a sense of being lost in their lives. They also conveyed their shame, desperation, and anger over feelings of entrapment and self-betrayal. Though this process feels personal to each woman, it is in fact deeply cultural. A male-centered world tells women who they are or who they should be, especially in intimate relationships.”
Connect the dots with a submission-validated system or big boat. “They did so to avoid conflict (“ruckus”) to maintain peace in the big boat or to ensure their psychological safety.” Or, they had “anger over feelings of entrapment.”
Or ponder the words of Carol Gilligan from the same book (Silencing the Self) and the real outcome of submitting to Dave’s system in the big boat: “To be a good woman, good wife, good mother, good daughter, good helpmate or colleague, (Dan inserts: a good pastor) a woman must subordinate herself to male authority and accede to the voice or the law of the fathers.”
Dave wanted me to be a good man and bring relief of the patriarchal anxiety within the big boat by submitting to his system. And for days, I was using empathy to see what it would be like for a strong female leader seeking to live a life of differentiated closeness within her own boat.
From the differentiated closeness where each leader has his/her own boat in differentiated togetherness, consider this point. In the midst of this ruckus, Dave urged me to die to self, submit to the church (for the sake of relationship, to appease anxiety) submit to his system, to stop blogging, to surrender my almost published book into this real and unpredictable anxiety-tension within the big boat.
Well, in my differentiation I see Dave stepping into my boat and taking over my part of the steering in togetherness. My boat. My boundaries. He’s a male. He’s a theologian in an evangelical seminary. There is a sense of entitlement. He’s entitled to do this because he created the system and his unacknowledged psychological and spiritual power.
For me this connects all the dots about male evangelical using aggression and male bullying to ease their anxiety and their version of togetherness. What if I were a woman? What about the wide range of male aggression in the evangelical church?
Isn't this unacknowledged evangelical male aggression a huge issue in the evangelical purity culture? With consent? With issues of domestic violence? Do you see evangelical male aggression in close relationships when men have a low tolerance of intimacy? With neo-Calvinists in their version of submission? With what happened between Larycia Hawkins and Wheaton College?
I have no doubt that Dave deeply, deeply cares for women. But how can I not come to the conclusion that Dave is always pro-system? That is, submission-validated in one big boat. But pro-submission is not the same as pro-women. They’re not the same. Dave taking over the steering in my boat doesn't get to the root of patriarchal anxiety within togetherness.
Do you see in Dave’s two paragraphs how he was pro-system and he could not truly join with me? Instead he had to stand over me and say good things and kind things while trying to steer my part of togetherness in the boat.