I Do or Maybe I Don't

There is a lot of talk about "privilege" - talk of the privileges other people have and the negative impact that status of privilege has on those who do not share it. Of course, there is white privilege. And if you break that down further within the Black community there is light-skinned privilege. Then there is male privilege. And if you look at that more closely within the female community there is blond privilege. 

As a member of the disadvantaged old community, I would like more emphasis on youth privilege. For instance, I think doctors should be required to ask the 18 year old the same questions he/she asks 70 year olds: "Have you fallen within the last 6 months? Do you feel safe in your home? Can you recite the alphabet beginning with A and ending with C?" (My answer one time to the nurse who asked me the first question was, "If I had, I wouldn't tell you.")

Recently I came across a Blog post titled "Consent is everything." It's a variation of the theme of male privilege:
Men, you hold the place of privilege and power in your conservative evangelical churches. Your physical, ecclesiastical, and familial dominance put you in a dangerous and fragile position. 
The "Consent" Blog even carries the now ubiquitous "trigger warning." I will follow through and offer my own trigger warning. His Blog and my response deal with topics of sex, marriage, consent, and the reality of abuse within marriage.

He cites several cases (I will not repeat the acts he reports) and asks, if you were were a pastor, if you would label them abusive (and possibly report them). His answer:
I suppose the answer depends on whether or not these things occur while you are a member of an OPC or a PCA church. Yes, it turns out that while “The World” seems perfectly clear about these things, actual pastors in the OPC and PCA who found themselves confronted with these exact situations in their churches told the victims that they hadn’t been abused at all. Their reason? According to them, consent is irrelevant to a Christian sexual ethic. 
He believes a pastor who does not say yes to his question, and the sessions that support their pastor, should be subject to church discipline. He says you don't have to know the details to agree with him about these pastors and sessions being subject to discipline. They are guilty, apart from the facts, because they did not consider the issue of consent:
My gut reaction on encountering this information was that these pastors should be defrocked and the sessions disciplined. By refusing to address abuse, they are complicit in it. By manipulating or bullying victims into not reporting abuse, they become perpetrators of abuse themselves. Such men are wolves, no matter how pretty their pulpit words may be. You don’t need to know the details of those cases to agree with me here. The issue is that before the details of the case can come to adjudication, their refusal to consider the consent of the abused relevant to the case already determines the outcome. That this happens among us belies how deeply and shamefully confused we are about the issue of consent.
For the writer consent really is everything. Why is it not in conservative churches? Because, he says, we are suspicious of and resistant to perspectives that come to us from the world. Consent is one of those perspectives that originates in the world:
I understand some of the reasons for our confusion. As many see it, the church’s “worldview” differs from "The World’s", and we feel defensive about this. Our ideology makes us suspicious that the world tells insidious lies about pretty much everything, and we should maintain constant vigilance against its deception. Of the insidious lies we think "The World" tells, one is that I own myself. And so many conservative Christians suspect that talk of one’s well being, one’s feelings, one’s self determination, and yes, their consent to sexual intimacy even within the marriage bond, encodes their 'wretched grasping after autonomy,' the very sin that Eve gave into in the garden. Being good Christians, steeped in the language of scripture, we counter that our bodies are not our own, and that the marriage bond is built on mutual submission, sacrifice, and selflessness.
He asks what "a theology of consent would look like." He knows, of course, that there are no Biblical passages to expound to say what he thinks needs to be said. So he reasons from his understanding of Christ, which frankly does not seem to derive from the Bible, but which, if it were derived from the Bible, would not lead to his conclusions by good and necessary inference: 
... I’m the first to admit that the issues are complex. Being prone to philosophizing, I’m usually glad to take a mental meander through the analysis of subjectivity, of agency, and so on. And as an armchair theologian, I’d find it fascinating to pick apart the trinitarian heterodoxies and christologies that animate today’s debates about complementarianism. But as satisfying as those sentences would be to me, and to other like-minded folks, I fear that indulging our impulses to argumentation would obscure our vision of the bright light of any Christian ethic, sexual or otherwise: Jesus, the God-man, incarnate Lord, the heart of our faith. 
From Him there resounds a “yes” so compelling and penetrating that it echos in our hearts, expressing itself in our own “yes” to what Jesus has accomplished in us, through history. Our yes emanates from beyond mere acquiescence or submission, arising not from need but from the fullness of union with the risen and glorified Christ. The yes of Christ joins the being of one to the being of another. Do you desire a union with others who are joined in the same way to their savior, that echoes your union with Him? Do you desire it with your wife or with your husband? Then why would you settle for anything less than their “yes” in that expression of intimacy that is yours alone to share? And how does your entire being not rebel at the wickedness of extracting that intimacy to the sound of their “no”?

There are several things to note:

1. This is another example of something that to me seems rampant: "Grid thinking." You put on the glasses of a perspective, and then you see everything perfectly through that perspective. There are good grids: The Apostles Creed or the Confessions of the churches. These creeds and confessions keep us from error as we exegete and teach the Bible. I compare what I have come up with looking at Scripture to what the church says is settled doctrine, and, if I disagree, I am probably wrong, and in any case should not teach it for truth. But a sociological or political view is not a grid through which a Christian can safely view everything else. The fact that I am a capitalist does not mean I should condemn Joseph for laying up food in government barns or the early Jerusalem church for holding all things in common. The writer of the blog has taken a grid from the world and thinks that pastors or sessions who do not see things through his grid are benighted.

2. He describes three cases and acknowledges he does not give us the details; he tells us about the pastoral counsel given in these situations and asks us to rely on his very brief reports of what the pastors said; he says these pastors and their sessions need to be disciplined by higher authorities. Now, if he accurately describes the three cases, I agree with his point of view regarding those cases. If he accurately describes the pastoral counsel, I would question its wisdom. But you would have to know a whole lot more than he tells you even to consider launching an inquiry, much less entering a disciplinary case against these pastors and elders.

3. He ignores and so does not address our civilization's historical view of marriage. Civilizations accumulated wisdom is far more reliable than a trendy contemporary view. 

Understand what I am saying. I believe "not tonight honey" should, after a little pleading of one's case, be "not tonight." But it also needs to be pointed out that historically the "I do" of the Christian marriage ceremony, is a statement of implied consent. That's why we have the concept of "conjugal rights." There is in the law an assumption that the two parties who enter into marriage then have a "right" to sexual relations. A brief definition from Webster of conjugal rights is:"the sexual rights or privileges implied by and involved in the marriage relationship: the right of sexual intercourse between husband and wife." My guess is that in writing his "Consent" blog the author was not aware of such rights, and, had he been aware, would have considered this an antiquated concept that represents a society where male privilege prevailed. Civilization deserves the benefit of the doubt and ought not to be quickly and thoughtlessly jettisoned.

4. The most important deficiency of the blog is that, apart from confused and misused Christology, the writer does not wrestle at all with the relevant passages of Scripture. There are all the cases of marriage in the Old Testament to consider. There are Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 in the New Testament. And there is this:
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
No "theology of consent" that does not understand and wrestle with the implications and applications of the words of the Apostle, which are the words of God, is a theology of consent. Consent is one thing, but, if the Apostle is right, far from everything.

Now those who feel guilty about your youth privilege may ease your consciences by sending reparations to me. I will accept them on behalf of the whole class of old people. Make your check out to "Bill "the Curmudgeon" Smith. 
As soon as your deposited check the bank clears,
You'll be free from your guilt, and tears, and fears. 


  1. Great article Fr. Bill. :-)
    "Now those who feel guilty about your youth privilege may ease your consciences by sending reparations to me. I will accept them on behalf of the whole class of old people. Make your check out to "Bill "the Curmudgeon" Smith.
    As soon as your deposited check the bank clears,
    You'll be free from your guilt, and tears, and fears."

    Selling indulgences now are we Fr. Bill? ;-)

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write a response to my post. However, while you are of course free to quote me, I haven't given permission for you to reproduce my post in its entirety on your blog. Please remove the copy / paste of my post at the end of yours, and feel free to include a link to my post instead.

  3. It was an oversight on my part not to have erased the copy of your Blog I had placed at the bottom of mine so I could refer to it as I was writing. Thanks for calling my attention to my mistake. I immediately erased the copied and pasted material. I did link to your Blog in the first sentence of the third paragraph of mine. Blessings.


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