We are going to talk about boats, bullies, differentiation of self, connection between John Piper, John Howard Yoder, and David Fitch's male aggression, and his new book, Faithful Presence.
I love Dave and deeply respect his desire for mutuality. I have forgiven him when he seized power over me and became a spiritual bully.
“There would be no hierarchy, no coercive power, no one person ruling over and above another person. His model, as we will discover, is mutual, shared leadership under one Lord.”
“In the kingdom of God however, there is no more seizing power by someone over others.”
Once it became evident that my blog postings and my pictures on FB provoked patriarchal anxiety among many, including Dave himself, he did seize ruling power over me. He and co-pastors became imitators of the Gospel Coalition and John Piper over me. They assumed that submitting to coercive mutuality would lead to shared spiritual intimacy (genuine mutuality and spiritual intimacy can’t be coerced!).
Let’s break out our differences that I think split Dave and I from the very beginning in 2009. In the summer/fall of 2009, we had a big breakup. I think we embrace two different major paradigms about spiritual intimacy. One paradigm is “other-validated” intimacy and the other is “self-validated” or “differentiation of self.”
These are from the brilliant psychotherapist, David Schnarch and there are a wide number of evangelical therapists who think very highly of Schnarch’s differentiation of self.
I think it is fair to say that Dave Fitch’s view of mutual submission fits into the “other-validated” camp. Let’s pick a boat that sits 12 leaders. That boat represents the “other-validated” paradigm. The other paradigm, self-differentiation we will also pick a boat—for each of the 12 leaders. We are going to have 12 boats for one paradigm and one boat for the other paradigm. Right away of course, you can see there is a fundamental difference in the paradigms.
Now Dave is in the big boat. Being in this big boat means relational closeness, togetherness, presence, etc. He stands tall in this boat. Being in this boat means each leader gets validated by communication, emotional connection, listening, and affirmation. This is a boat that carries with it as its ongoing mission, “mutual submission.” There are both men and women together. You can see why women who have been under traditional headship would find this boat attractive. This “submission” is based on approval and validation of all who are in the boat.
It’s Dave’s tweaked version of John Howard Yoder system of submission. Each one submits to one another and they are all in this together. Within this boat are all the gifted leaders. One could be an apostle, prophet, or pastor. Furthermore, in Dave’s scheme, several leaders could be elders. They are all in this boat together.
Now for the 12 self-differentiated leaders, they have their separate boats but they are committed to stay near and close to one another as they move forward. Their submission to togetherness is the ability to stay close one another but not out of coercion or unhealthy submission. In these 12 boats are all the same kind of gifted leaders. They are both men and women in this boat, too.
These leaders in these boats have an entirely different paradigm than Dave’s boat. First they want to be sure that even though they are committed to stay together, each of the boats means that their “I” is going to be validated by their self—staying within each their own boat. Their “togetherness” is going to be shaped by a profoundly different relational closeness—a differentiated closeness.
Yes, they are going to share a lot of mutual stuff that the leaders in the one boat share. They are going to be validated by each other, they are going have emotional-spiritual intimacy, they are going to practice listening and seek connect with leaders in each of the 12 boats as they travel closely together.
So, far, the major foundational difference is the separate boats versus the one big boat. Besides that, they all try to submit to each other and practice the same stuff as the ones in the big boat do.
However, one of the basic core parts of being in different boats is the symbol there is a distinct separateness in the togetherness. Unity, spiritual intimacy, spiritual maturity, healthy flourishing are all defined by 12 distinctive separate leaders in their respective boats.
An important insight into differentiation of self is that this paradigm recognizes even though good communication, listening, and emotional connection can happen in the one big boat, leaders in that boat can end up in a gridlock of stuck togetherness.
They may all herd together and stay in a gridlock and just stay in immature closeness, gridlocked in needing validation from each other before they move but they can’t all agree on how to move forward in closeness. They may end up stuck in spiritual stagnation because they can’t move forward in this stuck togetherness.
They may all claim to be close friends but there is this needed permission or validation from everyone to stay “under” in submission on this boat. Sounds like a good thing that could work but what happens if a new insight comes from the Spirit to one of the leaders?
The leader starts a trailblazing path to do something totally provocative and it stirs anxiety among other leaders in the boat. The leaders in this boat are all oriented to submit to each other out of validation. They are all “under” each other. This is what is presented in Faithful Presence and in Dave’s churches.
Now leaders in the 12 boats, their separateness means in self-differentiation that walking in the Spirit, (or to stay true to this metaphor—paddling in the Holy Spirit) for them in their togetherness gives them healthy space for the “I” to not be lost in the togetherness of the big boat. Their separateness means they are traveling with each other, not “under” each other.
They commit to true togetherness that is not based solely on the other leader’s validation. They know that in the course of time all leaders in the group will continue to mature and grow and change; their separate boats mean they have the ability to separate thinking from feeling and that their combination of thinking-feeling will be separate from other leaders in other boats.
They know that many of them or maybe all of them will come to positions/views that are authentically theirs. This ensures they can relax and be their selves. They are not clones of the other leaders.
Furthermore, they can be their best selves while not waiting on other leader’s approval or permission. They have the enormous freedom to choose options other leaders might not have chosen while still remaining close together with the other boats.
While remaining close to the other leaders and their boats, the separate boats also symbolize that each leader bears a responsibility to another but not responsible for another. This empowers each leader within the 12 boats to be close to each other but not become a doormat to the anxiety of other leaders who have different ideas about togetherness.
Each leader in these boats is responsible for their own life, their own choices, their own maturity. They are not seeking to manipulate others to their choices. They are free for others to not choose the same choices while they still all are committed to staying close in their boats.
They know they can experience a deeper connection and intimacy in this freedom where they can move past so many gridlocks that happen in the big boat. They can do things and experience profound intimacy/togetherness because their best selves have moved past the fears of engulfment, of getting too close, of getting spiritually enmeshed, of needing to please others.
The leaders in these 12 boats know the importance of continually growing in deeper self-awareness and deeper-other awareness and this growing knowledge can mean they can experience profound intimacy/togetherness. It becomes a differentiated closeness that creates a non-anxious presence about the fears and anxieties that are projected upon them by other leaders.
That means singles for example can end up in profound intimate connections with a cross-gender friend who happens to be married. It means men and women can enjoy a differentiated closeness both in ministry—even as pairs like two co-pastors—while they grow in their knowledge of self-awareness and other-awareness. It means men and women can enjoy a differentiated closeness without succumbing to triangulation, or communal enmeshment.
It also means they can, out of their inner self, choose to “submit” or self-sacrifice to others for the sake of togetherness that is not coerced or pressured by others for the big picture. Now there will be always be a tension as to what this looks like because the 12 boats separateness assume a diversity that can be enormously deep and profound.
I have kind of set the table, I think that this represents two different paradigms. I think the 12 leader boat fairly represents Dave Fitch’s mutual submission.
So let’s dive into the breakdown on what happened in 2009, shall we?
Dave wrote a response to me and he accurately portrayed some of the things that went down between us. Here is one excerpt:
Dave: I became extremely frustrated (and showed it) with the way you were leading provocatively in regard to Cross Gender friendship among our congregation. In my opinion, you were provoking needlessly and undermining your own leadership. Your example of the canoe trip incident with the single woman that you posted (IMO they were needlessly provocative posts) on FB is an example. I thought you raised needless questions about yourself and the other person involved.
Dan: Now imagine Dave is the one standing in that big boat. He’s standing in that big boat because he created the system of mutual submission which is all about being inside that big boat and needing not only other’s approval/validation but his as well.
So he thinks I provoke the whole cross-gender friendship as a leader and one example was the FB pictures of the single woman. In Dave’s vision of the big boat, I have been rocking the boat and with the canoe trip with FB pictures, I am without discretion, needlessly rocking the boat and provoking many anxieties among other leaders in that same boat, right? He totally believes I am undermining my leadership. He thinks I am reckless and I’m acting like I am in charge.
Meanwhile, a major disconnect between us is that I have assumed in this “emerging church” (it was still part of emerging in 2009 I believe) along with Dave’s ongoing language of mutual submission that our whole 12 leaders have been in separate boats not, one big boat.
In my deep understanding of mutuality, we’re all in 12 boats of true togetherness. I didn’t know we were in one boat of Dave’s picture of true togetherness that defined mutuality by submission-validation.
They both have radical different orientations as to the responsibility, and maturity of the self. Do you see that?
So, Dave would have said to me in the big boat if he knew beforehand that I was going on a canoe trip and posted pictures of it on FB. He would have whispered to me while standing up in that big boat, something like, “If you go on that canoe trip, don’t post pictures on FB.” In essence, he admitted that a lot of people in the church are stuck in chronic patriarchal anxiety in his church.
In real life, the Sunday after I had posted those pictures he truly came up to me and said something like, “I don’t care if you went on that canoe trip, but you should have never posted the pictures.”
Now this is the way many evangelical systems have been run in leadership—the man with the most psychological and spiritual power—standing tall in the boat directing others and maintaining a validated peace in the boat with his approval. This is patriarchy. It’s the culture of Northern Seminary, Wheaton Seminary and Trinity. It’s the evangelical establishment.
He has other co-pastors but they clearly are his disciples. He created the meaning of the big boat and has the all psychological power and spiritual power over everyone in this boat that a John Piper would have in his boat of reformed submission. The one with the psychological and spiritual power gets to define mutuality and spiritual maturity, and submission in this boat.
Okay, are you with me so far? Now I’m in one of the 12 boats in the differentiated of self paradigm. This doesn’t have anything to do with selfishness, one’s own agenda, or getting one’s way. But this very basic orientation (separate boat from Dave’s and others) means my leadership might provoke disapproval and even anxiety in other leaders who are paddling separate. This is not about lone ranger behavior but about spiritual maturity and boundaries.
This mutuality can embrace a wide range of behaviors and freedom without upsetting the big picture of togetherness in these 12 boats. Yes, it can embrace trailblazers, pioneers, and explorers of the unchartered frontier without immediate permission or validation of the other leaders because this is about authentic mutuality, isn’t it?
This is because the 12 leaders in the 12 boats have Christ-centered personal boundaries. Do you have strong women who want to be or are leaders and trailblazers? They would be welcomed in this 12 boat leadership of true togetherness.
Do you see the huge difference in orientations claiming mutuality?
Once Dave said what he said to me the Sunday after, I went to several pastors and leaders outside our church who I thought were differentiated leaders and made sure they saw the pictures on FB and they said it awesome. They had a 12 boat leader understanding of togetherness.
Now, from this point on in 2009, I’m in Dave’s dog house, if I can say that within his 12 leader one boat. Even though Dave stresses through his Faithful Presence he does not seize power over others suddenly within his boat he does seize power with me.
The more these guys seek pressure for me to conform with all this top-heavy enmeshment, I think a bait-and-switch has happened about mutuality. I am thinking this feels like church caught up in Tom Cruise’s movie, The Firm.
Dave tells me when he is standing up this is all about mutual submission. Meanwhile, I’m thinking mutuality? This feels very much like and bait-and-switch to me. I got in this boat because of mutuality but mutuality doesn’t mean enmeshed leadership. This is beginning to feel like John Piper and the Gospel Coalition.
Indeed, with Dave standing tall in the boat with his two co-pastors who have totally bought into the idea of Dave’s one boat, they begin to tell me to sit down within their boat, and exert power over me in such a way that I now am forced to gain other’s permission before there is advancement. Full throttle into coerced mutuality which is pseudo-intimacy.
Where is my “I” in this paradigm? Where would Rosa Parks, “I” be?
Suddenly this big boat demands Matthew 18 process exerting power over me, stripping me of my dignity, seeking to take power over the publishing of my book, they humiliate me, and insist I stop writing on cross-gender friendship on my blog—if I want to be a leader in this church.
This is considered acceptable evangelical male aggression as far as solving conflicts because the man in power gets to decide this is Matthew 18 worthy. Spiritual intimacy 101 in an evangelical man’s world
You see, this is where Rosa Parks and all the trailblazing women would suffer immense male aggression (whatever male leader was standing in the boat over her) because they didn’t get permission to disturb the patriarchal fused peace on this one boat.
I stand with Christian leaders who would not put Rosa Parks or other strong female boundary-breakers in the doghouse in the big boat from the very beginning of her outrageous act as a trailblazer among church going people.
In the 12 boats, other leaders might have the same reaction as Dave had, but unlike Dave they do not tower over me in the same boat and demand Matthew 18 every time other leaders may have panic attacks about something and want to seize control to keep a shallow peace.
Indeed, leaders in the 12 boats have a very different understanding of spiritual maturity and intimate togetherness because they selected the 12 boats to begin with!!!
In David Schnarch’s language, they don’t confuse the destination with the process of how you get there!
This combination of differentiation and friendship is profoundly different and it defuses unilateral power of one leader standing over you determining what leader aggression is (FB pictures) in the big boat. This doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be hard conversations between us but it wouldn’t demand my agency be stripped and I wouldn’t be “under” them as I would be in Dave’s boat.
Now, we are going to include the very next sentence in Dave’s response on my blog:
Dave: Then you asked that the (ordained) pastors back you up when congregants complained. We resisted.”
Dan: What I wanted was the pastor’s differentiation!!! In differentiation, leaders can clearly say, this is where I am on the issue but its okay for you to be somewhere else. Kathy Escobar does this all the time!
This is differentiation. The leader all the time is at peace that everyone is on the road to spiritual-psychological development! The leaders don’t need to be in this ongoing anxiety about where people are in the big boat if they say something that they are clear on. Dave could make a clear statement about where he is without feeding into this male-anxiety for his ego’s approval of others if he is in the togetherness of differentiation of self.
I already know that Dave has agreed to ninety percent of my book but because he’s in that big boat---he can’t express differentiation to people in the big boat. The boat does not operate on differentiation it operates on other-validated intimacy/closeness.
But, when you are in the big boat, what you hear when someone wants differentiation is that you hear, “I want the top dog or in this case top dogs to say they are behind me and that settles it!!” No! No! A pastor with Dave’s view of mutuality needs other’s approval of his “I” on an endless number of positions before he can say anything without it looking like he’s over them. This is how the big boat can end up in endless gridlock and stuck togetherness.
A lot of hard conversation is needed for true mutuality as we go forward but at least I don’t get stripped of my dignity, or humiliated by Dave in the name of Jesus. I don’t have to swallow humiliating manipulation by one of his co-pastors about dying to self for the beauty of mutual submission or frankly, to appease Dave’s ego about leadership. That’s not spiritual maturity.
I was told all this heavy male aggression stuff about, “I must submit myself for the sake of the church, die to my dreams, possibly never publish a book, and most of all, need other’s validation or permission to get any kind of agency back.” That’s just old time male aggression seeking to resolve conflict in the name of “mutual submission.”
Do you see how unhealthy it is for a leader like Dave Fitch to write on his Facebook wall, "To refuse to reconcile is like giving Jesus the middle finger."
Can you imagine the horror of John Howard Yoder expressing that kind of rhetoric to any of the women he had been abusing? You know how male abusers seek to psychologically exert control over women. Where is the self-awareness of a white male evangelical theologian proclaiming that on his Facebook wall while simultaneously telling people enthusiastically he loves John Howard Yoder’s view of submission?
Is this the culture that Missio Alliance wants? Is this really part of the culture of Northern Seminary? A Northern male professor can make such a disturbing statement suggesting male enforced mutuality as part of Northern's approval?
But the conversation with the 12 boats involving differentiation of self would be drastically different from the male aggression, top leader who created the big boat defining my act as aggression and his manipulative anxiety seeking to bring everyone back to a codependent peace in which trailblazers need approval for connection.
We shall stop here. This series is called three questions for David Fitch’s Mutual Submission.
First question was the Rosa Parks question. Second question is the David Schnarch question. Where is the “I” in David Fitch’s togetherness in the big boat?