Have you seen the theologians, bloggers, and pastors give strong blurbs and endorsements for Faithful Presence? Both men and women?
Let’s take a poll. How many of them have personally participated in Dave’s big boat system of mutual submission and witnessed his male aggression come out during a conflict about an emotionally charged paradigm shift?
It can’t be the more benign kinds of the boundary-breaking shift but the truly authentic kind where a leader within the church disturbs the entrenched peace of Dave’s submission-validated big boat?
Let’s have a show of hands from those bloggers, theologians, and pastors. Anyone?
My series reviewing David Fitch’s new book, Faithful Presence, seeks to raise important questions about the meaning of Christ-centered mutuality. My review seeks to raise important questions about male aggression in evangelical institutions to resolve conflicts. How does the vision of “mutual submission” discern spiritual bullies in their midst from differentiated leaders? Does my friend’s vision of “mutual submission” welcome boundary-breakers, pioneers, trailblazers, and pot-stirrers in local churches?
In my last post I suggested that the smackdown Dave and I had in 2009 was rooted in two paradigms of intimacy. I proposed that his mutual submission as I have come to know it first in his church and then in his book is rooted in what brilliant author and psychotherapist David Schnarch refers to as an “other-validated” intimate paradigm.
I also proposed that the paradigm I embraced was what Schnarch calls “self-validated” or the “differentiation of self” intimate paradigm. In David Fitch’s mutual submission, I proposed that he wanted mutual submission of x amount of leaders who are “under” his system—a very key term for his system.
For the sake of illustration I chose 12 leaders to be in one big boat that seated the leaders. In this boat the bottom line was submission-validated or other-validated mutuality.
In the differentiation of self paradigm, I proposed that instead of one big boat carrying all the 12 leaders, each leader had a commitment to stay close together in 12 boats. Each boat pictures the importance that they have Christ-centered boundaries that entails each leader is separate in this big picture of togetherness in a foundational way that was altogether different than all the leaders in one boat.
There are a lot of implications about what this means. If you need a refresher please go back to my last post, here. Once you get the hang of the differences between the 12 boats with leaders versus the big boat with all 12 leaders I propose questions about the needed meta-conversation become quite provocative and cannot be minimized.
Before I go further in this post, I want to review something that we need to keep in mind. It’s so important to keep this in mind as I press into. Both our paradigms cherish spiritual-emotional intimacy, connection, listening, the importance of being present with one another.
Because of that, I cannot stress enough that I have enjoyed a lot of spiritual beauty, relational beauty, and cherished connection under Dave’s paradigm when he was there. I made the hard and painful choice to stay involved in Dave’s church after I was given a fork-in-the-road decision about our smackdown.
I resigned in protest about the coercion. But I chose to stay and nurture social trust not as other-validated leader that got David’s blessing within Dave’s big boat but as a mere congregant with subordinate power to the shared power invested in the co-pastors and elders.
In the following years after the smackdown, another co-pastor, Ty Grigg would come along. Ty, in my opinion, with his training as a spiritual director was more attuned to a differentiating relationship with me than Dave’s system of mutual submission.
But my ongoing presence as a leader in the cross-gender friendship also nurtured social trust with other leaders. I had two very close cross-gender friends in the congregation; our close friendships were out in the open.
As we proceed, let’s keep in mind the significance of the difference in the boats.
Peace Keeping Bullies and Two-Choice Dilemmas
In this series, as I continue to engage Faithful Presence I want to make it clear there are many good points within the book that I can say amen to. I love when Dave talks about the peace-making beatitude that he observes, “But this beatitude is not saying “blessed are peaceful,” but “blessed are the ones who are at work making peace.”
Also, I wholeheartedly say yes when he writes, “Instead, as we sit together, long enough in each other’s presence, faithful to his presence, we will be presented with an entry point. We must not translate our priorities into the lives of others.” Beautiful!
But when our paradigms clashed back in 2009, Dave took on the role of a spiritual bully over me. John Piper, Mark Driscoll, D.A. Carson and other leaders of the Gospel Coalition would have cheered him on. I have no doubt that other leaders in white-male led evangelical institutions like Biola, Wheaton, Northern, and others would have cheered.
When I resigned from being an elder at Life on the Vine in 2009, the co-pastors were shocked that I said I was being coerced into a choice-dilemma: either I become a passive participant with no agenda submitting to their big boat togetherness interpretation of Matthew 18 to solve this current anxiety driven crisis between us, or I resign.
They could not believe I felt pressure to resign under their big boat interpretation that justified Dave Fitch (and co-pastors) seizing power over me in solving this conflict. Their other-centered paradigm (big boat) required me to submit to all the patriarchal anxiety and male aggression among leaders before I could get my agency back as a leader within this 12 leader one boat.
I asked the leaders twice before I resigned, “Am I being accused of any moral transgressions? Are there any moral accusations against me?” If they answered in the affirmative, I would have voluntarily submitted to the Matthew 18 process of reconciliation.
But they said no.
That created what David Schnarch calls a “two-choice dilemma.” This is where the two choices they presented me were passionately undesirable to me on the strongest terms.
Schnarch proposed two-choice dilemmas are a common gridlock in “other-validated” intimate paradigms. Using the boat analogy, he proposed the two-choice dilemmas occur frequently for those who feel they “are in the same boat.”
Two-choice dilemmas radically limit our choices for intimacy. Using the 12 boat analogy two-choice dilemmas are like one leader (or many) assuming hidden assumptions about submission and validation in the one boat, jumping into your own separate boat and wanting to steer togetherness of the 12 for you.
As author Ingrid Teresa Pryde observes, “Bullies depend on approval and acceptance. More than that, bullies push others to agree with them rather than pushing themselves to agree with others.” When conflicts are solved by evangelical male aggression for keeping peace it becomes quite difficult to discern them from spiritual bullies requiring “mutual submission.”
This is what happened to me in the fall of 2009 under Dave’s encouragement.
This has been spiritual intimacy between women and men under patriarchy for centuries.
Low Tolerance of Intimacy, Submission, and the Big Boat
In my own sense of things, the connection that David Schnarch and then Edwin Friedman in Failure of Nerve make between a low tolerance of intimacy, two-choice dilemmas, and other-validated paradigm makes sense of what happened in the David Fitch-Dan Brennan smackdown.
With the need for other-validation for approval, for submission-validation for togetherness in the big boat, the leaders in the big boat are forced into a stuck-togetherness that shares the same low tolerance of intimacy.
A low tolerance of intimacy requires “mutual submission” in the big boat in order to keep peace. When there is an ongoing need for other-validation, in the long run there is this enmeshed gridlock that needs to keep a codependent peace of shared togetherness within the boat.
Let’s go back to the heart of Dave’s anxiety and interpretative grid of what now is the enmeshed leadership within the big boat:
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: Since this is perceived as me breaking rank “needlessly provocative” (that is stepping out of line with the enforced peace of the big of togetherness), in Edwin’s Friedman terms, Dave needs to “sabotage” my self-differentiated leadership.
Because mutual submission within the one boat not only applies to run-of-the-mill stuff that maintains peace and order (the opposite of “needlessly provocative”) it creates a system full of what Edwin Friedman calls, “highly anxious risk-avoiders.” In Friedman’s language, “the resistance that sabotages a leader’s initiative usually has less to do with the “issue” that ensues than with the fact that the leader took initiative.”
The question of who is anxiously and needlessly grasping for power at this point, depends on which boat one is standing—a leader within the single big boat or the leader among the 12 boats? From the differentiation of self paradigm, Dave anxiously grasps for power by coming onto my boat without my permission to steer my part of our togetherness for me and in so doing, presents me with a “two-choice dilemma” for me.
I lose my agency, I loose control over publishing my book, I might possibly lose my cross-gender friendships for the sake of his enforced system within the church or I can no longer be leader in this system. This two-choice dilemma created by male aggression to solve conflicts in the anxiety storm happens all the time in evangelical male institutions. Enforced mutuality of togetherness does not produce spiritual intimacy anymore than it does in the evangelical patriarchy of the Gospel Coalition.
So, the leader who created the system of mutual submission at this point is grasping for power to “lord it over” over my faith, and to rule over by taking over the steering of my boat in order to ensure those who are suffering from patriarchal anxiety that everything is under control in this system.
“Separateness,” as a leader with her own boat, is always framed within the big boat as an act of leader moving away from being “under” the system—i.e. breaking ranks with submission-validated. It is viewed as being selfish, with one’s own agenda in leadership within the big boat.
Now keep your eye on this.
When I said in my first post that I was disappointed that Dave did not include the discipline of mutual intimate friendship (I was careful to not limit it only to cross-sex when I made that observation) among other things, I meant his “mutual submission” doesn’t require nor desire leaders to have separate boats.
If you are following along, the discipline of mutual intimate friendship between men and women requires separate boats all along the process with a full healthy resistance to big boat paradigm. That peaceful resistance to the togetherness in the big boat is called Christ-centered personal boundaries among leaders.
Separate boats for leaders are important for shalom-making at the deepest relationships between men and women in our churches, our marriages, our neighborhoods, and cities. Separate boats help us discern when leaders become spiritual bullies over us and they attempt to steer our boats for the sake of diffusing patriarchal anxiety within “life together” in evangelical male-led institutions.
May I make one more comment about low tolerance of intimacy, male aggression to solve conflicts in the form of spiritual bullying, and mutual submission? I believe the rich insights of David Schnarch, Edwin Friedman, and other differentiation of self advocates give us profound insight into low tolerance of intimacy among evangelical males within the Gospel Coalition and Missio Alliance.
David Fitch’s book, Faithful Presence joins a number of books written by male evangelicals in recent years who steer clear of unprecedented spiritual intimacy between men and women in the twenty-first century. In evangelical male-led institutions there is this deep anxiety when intimacy is defined through the differentiation of self paradigm.
Most evangelical men (and women) want to bail out of knowing each other at profound depths. When mutuality, equality, openness, reverence, self-responsibility are put at the center of intimacy, then we have to have hard (not forced in the name of “submission”) conversations! How do we distinguish intimacy from spiritual bullying, enmeshment, anxiety driven submission to keep peace in togetherness, fusion, and other unhealthy dynamics of unhealthy togetherness?
Male evangelical leaders writing books about leadership, church, and gender issues, continue to anxiously steer the big boat clear of differentiated closeness between men and women and the heart of God. Meanwhile, in common occurrence across this nation, thousands of men and women are experiencing profound depths of intimacy between one another in therapeutic intimacy behind closed doors.
Schnarch sees this low tolerance of intimacy in romantic dyads. I got the idea of the boat analogy from him. In low tolerance of intimacy among dyads (poor differentiation) in name of romantic togetherness and absorption, a partner feels threatened by the other partner’s separateness: separate goals, maturing, desires, dreams, relationships, spiritual-emotional investment in others, etc.
This is what happens when romantic partners feel they are in the same boat of togetherness. Exactly the same issues I encountered in mutual submission when evangelical males insist leaders in the local church (or other institutions) are all in the same boat of togetherness.
When evangelical marriages have promoted and advocated this one boat togetherness, is it any wonder, they have low tolerance of shared spiritual intimacy between men and women in friendship? Is it any wonder that intimate spiritual friendships between men and women stir intense anxiety for many in this boat?
When Spiritual Bullies Seek Control Using the Other-Validated Paradigm
As I was forging what differentiation looked like for me when I began to go public with my cross-gender friendships, two significant experiences were utterly life-shaping for me and they both had some similarities.
The first was the intense period of conversation I had with Dave Fitch after the FB pictures in the fall of 2009. The second was the intense period of conversation I had with a close female friend in the fall of 2011. Although there were many differences, they shared deep similarities in that they both wanted to step in my boat and take control over the steering for our togetherness.
The intense conversation with my friend began in earnest with my friend’s response to me after I had blogged on a blossoming cross-gender friendship. I still remember her reaction--that is her reaction to my new friendship because I kept the email which contained her response.
This female friend was doing a spiritual bully in mirroring Carter Heyward’s understanding of mutuality. Heyward was seeking to blaze a trail, too. She was a lesbian priest who fully rejected patriarchy found in so many evangelical churches. But was she a trailblazer for healthy mutuality?
She sought out therapy and ended up developing a close attachment with her female therapist She yearned for an intense mutual relationship with her therapist and in doing so, she argued that patriarchy and therapeutic boundaries were conflated. Heyward claimed that abuse could also be construed as “withholding intimacy and authentic emotional connection from those who seek our help.”
Now my female friend’s reaction was not using the language of Dave Fitch’s mutual submission. Her reaction was jealousy toward my new friendship. I had experienced her jealousy before toward another female friend and now she was probing into why I withhold intimacy from her that I express to my friend. From there it mushroomed into this intense conversation over several weeks.
More than once she said to me that I was a “guru” for male-female friendship and I had it within me to comply with what she wanted out of our togetherness. Several times she wanted me to “submit” in the David Fitch way (not specifically using the term) in wanting me to conform to her version of mutuality.
As the drama unfolded, I started to take more responsibility in the relationship (differentiation) and she felt threatened by that. I needed some breathing space and she was pressuring me for more. I needed to be separate in my own boat and she was wanting to steer my boat in the name of mutuality.
Then she took a turn toward the dark side. She began to threaten me with emotional blackmail. She would tell all the world through social media that I really couldn’t be trusted and she was going to gaslight me in social media if I didn’t acquiesce to her needs. She too, tried to sabotage my initiative. It was different from mutual submission sabotaging but it was clearly sabotage.
This was not only frightening but emotionally exhausting. I was so exhausted and frightened simultaneously. In The Book of Womanhood by Amy Davis Abdallah which came with positive blurb by Mimi Haddad, President of Christians for Biblical Equality, the author writes,”We have all likely experienced relationships that become too intense or too distant at times…In order to avoid extreme intensity and extreme distance, one must come to the relationship as a ‘clear, whole, and separate I.’”
A significant turning point in my conversation with this female friend occurred when I asked her for some breathing space and we not talk for two weeks. Several days later she called me. I didn’t answer. I just let it ring. She called again, and I let it ring. She would call me thirty five times in 30 minutes.
That’s the healthy need for a separate boat in our marriages, friendships, churches, and leadership. Both intense conversation periods of 2009 and 2011 helped me to see differentiation as a healthy alternative for calls for submission or unhealthy mutuality in close/intense relationships.
Differentiated Relationships/Churches and Matthew 18
Once my friend discovered that I wasn’t going to submit to emotional blackmail on her terms, she followed through and shotgunned a whole slew of emails to everyone she could find on my church’s blog with all these accusations.
This time I voluntarily submitted to the intensive investigation by the leaders at Life on the Vine.
I gave myself up not only for the ultimate goodness and beauty of healthy togetherness within my church. I gave myself up for the ultimate goodness and beauty of my leadership in the cross-gender friendship. I voluntarily gave myself up to a process in which I had no control over and did not know final outcome. I was prepared to give up my leadership in the cross-gender friendship once and for all.
I am deeply thankful that, as Dave said in a response on my blog, after an intensive investigative by a cross-gender leadership team, I was exonerated.
We must not gloss over the difference between my choice to participate in the process of Matthew 18 the second time with the coerced forces of togetherness seeking to steer my boat the first time in the name of submission validation.
My beef with David Fitch in his new book is not a denial of the Matthew 18 process or what happened in the discerning process after my female friend carried through on her threat. It is the differentiated discernment process toward what happens when leaders, friends, churches enter into conflict.
Does male aggression step in and demand Rosa Parks into a long drawn-out process that is likely to end in a gridlock? What about other female trailblazers who male leaders might feel are “needlessly provocative?” Aren’t whole churches vulnerable to enmeshment, fusion, and power-over demands in the name of Matthew 18 for the sake of keeping peace?
Is it healthy for churches to use enforced mutuality to sort out intense anxiety among different leaders by demanding they submit to an other-validated one boat fits all scenario? Are churches cultivating and nurturing a healthy “I” (separate boat for not just each leaders but for congregants, too) in the midst of the big picture of togetherness? How are evangelical male leaders with a low tolerance for intimacy shaping the conversation about mutuality? Are we going to recognize that there are women and men finding healing and differentiation in therapeutic dyads? Healing from male aggression in solving conflicts?
In my experience in Dave’s mutual submission there is such a pronounced emphasis upon submission, and togetherness over the “I.” In the book I wanted to see how he reflected on what happens when a leader who doesn’t believe it is appropriate to seize power over another (as Dave makes clear that is his position), seizes the power over another like he did me in 2009.
These are huge important questions for mutuality that I feel are left unaddressed in Faithful Presence. More to come about biblical shalom and differentiating peace in my next post.