"We disagree on this and I think you are wrong to do _________.” Then we follow up with questions like, “Do you agree with me that this act is sin?” or “Do you understand why I disagree with you?” Next, we follow in acts of submission to one another under Jesus’ name. We say, “I submit to you that the best course of action is ________. What would you have me do?” and similar questions "( pg. 73, Faithful Presence).
For over ten years now, I have been plotting my way through the “messy entanglement” (using Sarah Coakley's phrase) of sexuality, spirituality, and submission. Also, during the majority of those years, I have been under David Fitch’s ecclesial practice of the mutual submission he expounds upon in his new book, Faithful Presence.
I have known Christ’s presence in some beautiful ways at Life on the Vine. There are beautiful people there, beautiful leaders with beautiful hearts, and its been a deep blessing to know Christ’s presence together.
I’ve also known some of the hard parts, or the most challenging parts of Dave’s vision for mutual submission. As his vision seeks to know a “social closeness” where Jesus is “known like nowhere else.”
My own experience of “mutual submission” and Dave’s aggressive use of Matthew 18 to resolve a conflict in the fall of 2009, ended up with us both in a gridlock. A gridlock where he stood in my boat attempting to steer my part of our togetherness without my consent.
It was, in every sense of the phrase, a “messy entanglement” of his “mutual submission” clashing up against a gridlock between myself and Dave.
Now, both in personal experience as well as reading theories about the connection between sexuality, closeness, and friendship (“platonic” closeness) I came to understand that “closeness” is not the same thing as healthy mutuality/mature intimacy. To know healthy and mature intimacy is also to be aware of what are the dark parts of “closeness.”
The dark side or unhealthy side of “social closeness” would be issues like enmeshment, fusion, codependency, people pleasing, male entitlement, and male aggression. All these kinds of dark experiences can emerge in “social closeness” during conflicts, gridlocks, group thinking, relational dead-ends, two-choice dilemmas, and so on.
I’ve also come to know both in experience and in research that patriarchy is alive and well. It’s alive and well in many evangelical churches in the “messy entanglement” of sexuality, spirituality, and submission.
There is nothing like the deep closeness in cross-gender friendship to help a male like me to know my own low tolerance toward intimacy, addressing my own sense of gendered entitlement, and becoming more sensitive to male aggression.
Also, for the past five years, I have been exploring the similarities between the therapeutic female-male bond and intimate mutual friendship between men and women.
Overall, in the big picture, I see beautiful, positive, life-giving shalom-like, Christ-like kind of outcomes happening within the therapeutic intimate female-male dyad that are unheard-of between evangelical male pastors/theologians and women.
How is it that thousands upon thousands of women have chosen to receive help from male therapists behind closed doors? How is it that thousands upon thousands of women go to male or female therapists to receive therapy after encountering spiritual bullies among evangelical male leaders, male aggression among these leaders, male entitlement under the guise of submission? How is it that multitudes of women have chosen to become therapists and many of them meet with male clients behind closed doors?
For example, let's briefly consider a metaphor within Isaiah 11 depicting the richness and the depth of shalom in God’s kingdom, “The wolf shall live with the lamb” (Isaiah 11: 6). In the face of male aggression, male violence behind closed doors, date rape, male aggression to solve conflicts, etc. does not the safety and sanctuary of therapeutic female-male dyad behind closed doors give us some glimpse of this powerful metaphor from Isaiah 11?
To press deeper and further into this, how is this shalom-like, Christ-like therapeutic practice happening between men and women who have made no conscious commitment to Christ? To the evangelical faith depicted within David Fitch’s Faithful Presence?
I rejoice that Dave seeks out a system that is unlike systems created by hyper-masculine evangelical males. Both Dave and I share a mutual passion in mutuality. We both share a mutual belief that the world aches for mutuality. Dave is no John Piper. He is no Mark Driscoll.
But first and foremost in his new book, Faithful Presence, I was looking forward to see if he went beyond the surface of his system of mutual submission when there is meaningful dissent and healthy skepticism. Where his “one big boat” (his system of needing other-validation) encounters deep questioning and gridlock in the midst of “messy entanglement.” See here for meaning and explanation of "one big boat."
What happens in Dave’s system when there is a gridlock which is what happened to us? What happens when one of Dave’s leaders inside his close circle provokes patriarchal anxiety among Dave and other leaders within his close circle?
What happens when one leader in the big boat of 12 leaders stirs anxiety of some of the other leaders “in the same boat?” Does this justify aggressive action and demands that she “submit” for the immediate relief and comfort of leader’s anxieties? Along the same lines of a submission-validated system like those in the Gospel Coalition? In the big boat of “mutual submission” are we just pushing the anxiety-driven spiritual bully back one step?
Repeated calls to submit to get to mutuality when there is healthy skepticism and dissent does not mean real shared intimacy is going to drop out of the sky and poof! fall into the boat. Enforced enmeshment, enforced togetherness (“we're in the same boat”) is not going to create a healthy space for Christ's presence and mutuality.
I was disappointed in Faithful Presence that he never addresses the gridlock. He doesn’t address the “messy entanglement" underneath the gridlock. He refers us back to the "big boat." I was also disappointed that he joined a growing number of white male theologians/pastors who are writing about leadership and churches while anxiously bypassing the therapeutic male-female dyad. Faithful Presence joins the list of other male-written books that stress becoming aware of one’s neighborhood, without engaging what is now the ordinary, common experience in cities across America: the therapeutic intimacy between men and women behind closed doors.
In many, many major cities and suburban cities these therapeutic dyads happen doors or a couple of blocks away from evangelical churches participating in the Gospel Coalition and Missio Alliance.
In this “messy entanglement,” how much longer are evangelical male leaders/theologians going to look the other way instead of engaging the sense of shelter, sanctuary, flourishing, and healing that happens within these dyads behind closed doors? Especially when women participating in these dyads (either as clients or therapists) have heard or experienced male aggression, male bullying, male entitlement among evangelicals under the guise of “submission?”
I applaud and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Dave as he seeks out a social closeness in church where there is no hyper-masculinity. But the direction forward must not be a social closeness that enforces togetherness and male aggression under “mutual submission” when gridlock happens over deep healthy questioning and healthy skepticism.
Evangelical patriarchy is alive and well. Part of the evidence of that is this sense of entitlement among male leaders to enforce togetherness when gridlock happens. Part of evangelical patriarchy enforces aggressive submission to resolve conflicts using Matthew 18 as justification. It is imperative that we process what shalom-like movement means when we see a psychology of enforced submission that “solves” gridlocks through pressured closeness.
I don’t think the opposite of male aggression in patriarchy is simply “social closeness” in the local church within Dave’s “close circle.” Evangelical male entitlement and male aggression abounds in social closeness. We see it here, here, and here for just immediate examples. This is why the similarities between the therapeutic female-male dyad and spiritual cross-gender friendship stand out as a sanctuary and shelter. At the heart of each of them is a boat for each person in a healthy, flourishing togetherness..
What if there is a healthy alternative to the big boat togetherness that requires power-over other leaders to keep them in line within the big boat? This is where an anxious leader with the most psychological-spiritual power does not step into your own boat and steer for you as a bully would. This would be called differentiated mutuality or a mutuality ground in friendship.
Stay tuned for my next post.