Feminine Agency and Reformed Cringe

To paraphrase a classical Protestant pastor-friend who was raised Roman Catholic …

Why are cantankerous Calvinists the particular Christians leading the way in the defense of a gender-differentiated sex spectrum from mere complementarianism, through severe complementarianism, to roaring patriarchalism? And why does it go hand-in-hand with ever-increasing levels of distortional performative hyper-masculinity?

This is the same faction leading the way in LARPing a particular vision of traditional life and a supposedly recaptured concept of the downfallen traditional household that favors a strict domestic agency for women which is strongly juxtaposed to economic agency. It can even spawn and propagate a peculiar retrolapsarian prosperity gospel.

This has something to do with having the most anemic Mariology of all major Protestant traditions and the most anemic general view of female agency in Scripture. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, but it’s an intriguingly provocative thought. By overreacting against the hideous excesses of Roman Catholicism’s elevation of the Virgin Mary, the Reformed (far beyond the reforms of the Lutherans and the Anglicans) have become so skittish to even commend the Mother of Jesus that we’ve deprived ourselves of the central model of a godly woman in submission who nonetheless exercises powerful feminine agency in the service of God and the community of the faithful.

It doesn’t help matters when we think of a figure like John Knox and his contentions with the Scottish and the English queens. It’s almost as if the very DNA of Scottish and English Presbyterianism is coded for contentiousness against women in authority or exercising agency in the world. An Apollos that can’t abide a Priscilla.

The Reformed tradition has long been the most vocally resistant Protestant tradition to the vocation of celibacy in theory and practice. It’s come at the expense of a vital church office—that of the nun or the widow, like the maiden dedicated to service in the temple. There’s simply no room for any version of such things in a Reformed vision of fecundity where every man has his quiver full. Concrete ecclesial roles like those of godfather and godmother also depart as a patriarchal vision of a church of natural families grows. See retrolapsarian prosperity gospel once again.

Ultimately, the anemic Reformed outlook on female agency in Scripture with respect to various godly women in the biblical narratives leads to an anemic view of the corporate female agency of the Church as the Bride of Christ—the reality of which all those godly women were types and shadows.

It’s a conspicuous non-coincidence that the most aggressively patriarchal Reformed men are also the most aggressively postmillennial and theonomic in their sociopolitical views. And their own more sociopolitically modest Reformed brethren criticize postmillennial theonomic Calvinism as being ecclesiastical feminism. Such irony. It’s an expectation that the Bride of Christ will achieve here and now in this age that which is more properly and purely the thing which Christ the Husband will achieve in the age to come. It’s a transfer of Christ’s agency to the Church, not the Church’s work as the Helper to her Husband.

Call this all a provocative thought-experiment. Let it simmer a while in your mind.

Afterthought …

I don’t want to come across as a crypto-egalitarian. Nor do I see myself as advocating for the perspective that the new wave in “soft complementarians” are advocating. However, I’ve said elsewhere that I believe in a very strong natural complementarian, and I’d say I believe in a very strong natural patriarchalism. I stress the modifier natural, because we don’t live in a particularly natural culture. We live in a substantially de-natured culture. In this de-natured culture, egalitarianism is the new natural of the de-natured order.

I believe in a robust natural patriarchy that would form our world and its various social spheres. Furthermore, I believe in a robust natural matriarchy that would fill our world and its various social spheres. But we have to have a natural world in order to have such natural patriarchalism and matriarchalism. If we had such a natural world, the present egalitarianism would largely just go away of its own accord, because it’s unnatural.

By-and-large, robustly Reformed patriarchalists haven’t learned how to mentally grasp and navigate the cultural circumstances. They still rely too heavily upon performative hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity to substitute wherever our gendered natures have been culturally eviscerated. I even think a lot of such folks don’t desire to come to terms with it, because it means conceding to a significant lack in our agency and living within the limitations.

I don’t think the crypto-egalitarians or the hyper-performative patriarchalists know how to integrate the particular feminine agencies of a Rebekah, a Miriam, a Deborah, a Rahab, a Jael, a Huldah, an Abigail, an Esther, a Priscilla, a Phoebe, or a Mary.

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