Speaker Chastised Over Criticism of 'Biblical Patriarchy' at SBC Seminary


A speaker at an apologetics conference at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has been rebuked for comments critical of prominent Southern Baptists who believe God ordains for wives to be subordinate to their husbands.

Cynthia Kunsman, a registered nurse who runs a Web site and blog focusing on spiritual abuse, was invited to lead a workshop critiquing "biblical patriarchy" at a March 6-8 conference sponsored by Evangelical Ministries to New Religions.

In her lecture, Kunsman defined patriarchy as an "intolerant ideology" that has arisen within circles of the Christian homeschool movement during the last decade and a half. The movement is not monolithic, she said, but "encompasses many different denominations within Christianity."

"I believe that patriarchy is a disproportionate Christian response to cultural decline, and it sees family as central to the restoration of our culture," she said. "In that sense it could be called a homeschooling special-purpose religion or an affinity group."

Among troubling aspects of so-called biblical patriarchy, Kunsman identified a doctrine of "subordinationism" that argues Jesus Christ is of lesser essence and authority in the Trinity than God the Father.

"We see a lot of this in the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Federal Vision and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary," Kunsman commented. "

The EMNR later responded to comments about Kunsman's address with a statement saying the organization's board and the administration at Midwestern Seminary concurred that she made "unwarranted and misinformed accusations against Christian teachers and ministries, including the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and agencies within the Southern Baptist Convention."

One of the EMNR's board members is Phil Roberts, president of SBC-related Midwestern Seminary.

Kunsman said in an e-mail to EthicsDaily.com she believes the rebuke was politically motivated.

"I am incredulous, grieved and sorely disappointed in the gross lack of academic scholarship and integrity demonstrated by the apologetics organization's board and by the seminary, offering me only a sweeping statement of disapproval, all without a shred of evidence that I have misrepresented anyone," she said.

Kunsman added disclaimers and removed references to both the sponsoring organization and host seminary to her blog April 11. She declined to remove YouTube video posts of the session, however, maintaining "that I have been honest, truthful and have not misrepresented the teachings of individuals or organizations that I cite within the body of the lecture."

In her lecture, Kunsman quoted Wayne Grudem, a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a group opposed to "feminist egalitarianism" based at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., as arguing there is a hierarchy in the godhead and applies that doctrine to gender.

"Women are relegated to a hierarchical role of submitted Sonship," she explained. "God the Father in Trinity rules and reigns over the eternally subordinated Son. Therefore man in marriage rules and reigns over his wife. Therefore man in marriage is like unto God the Father in the Trinity, and woman is like unto Christ."

While the idea emerged in the 1970s in reaction to feminism, Kunsman said, it helped gain popularity through Grudem's Systematic Theology published in 1994.

Kunsman attributed another basic belief to teachings of Russell Moore, dean of theology at Southern Seminary.

"He says that any criticism of patriarchy, and their concept of it, is tantamount to open theism, because it is viewed as an indirect challenging of God the Father and his lordship over all creation," she said. "Gender becomes a matter of biblical authority."

In a 2007 lecture at the CBMW-sponsored Different By Design Conference, Moore said the gender issue is not a matter of "intramural debate" but rather "spiritual warfare."

"When you come to the issue of gender roles, you are dealing with the gospel," he claimed. "What we have to understand is the gospel itself is patriarchal. It has to do with the fatherhood of God."

In dealing with issues of male headship, Moore said, "So often we have acted as though there are more important issues, such as open theism, and so sometimes we will join hands and link arms with those that are with us on the doctrine of God: they just disagree with us on male headship."

"Open theism is not worse than evangelical feminism," Moore said. "Open theism is simply another way of saying evangelical feminism. We have to understand that what is happening in all of these debates that we have going on is indeed a slippery slope."

Kunsman said in her opinion "the most specific, well-reasoned and extensive apologetics concerning women and Trinity" came from Bruce Ware, a professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, who teaches that sin entered mankind through Eve and not through Adam.

Ware explained his position in an article in the Winter 2003 edition of the Southern Seminary Magazine titled "The Beauty of Biblical Womanhood."

"Eve was tempted and deceived by the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit, and then gave it also to Adam," Ware wrote. "Eve, that is, sinned first. Despite this fact, God seeks out Adam after their sin to inquire why they were hiding…. God approaches Adam, not Eve, as the one ultimately responsible for the sin."

"Adam only rightly bears the responsibility as the head of the sinful human race, when Eve sinned first, if he is viewed by God … as having authority and ultimate responsibility over the woman," Ware posited.

Ware said "complementarians" understand the Trinity "to present an analogy to the male/female relationship, as God designed it."

"Given this understanding of the Trinity, it makes sense for Paul to say what he does in 1 Cor 11:3." Ware said. "He speaks there of three authority lines that exist: Christ is the authority (head) over every man, man is the authority (head) over a woman, and God (the Father) is authority (head) over Christ. Just as the persons of God are equal in essence and yet they relate within a structure of lines of authority, so too men and women are equal in essence while relating within a similar structure of lines of authority."

Kunsman said she agrees with the Baptist Faith & Message that women do not meet biblical qualifications to be senior pastors, but she was taken aback by the negative reaction to her lecture.

She told EthicsDaily.com the burden has been placed entirely on her to defend her thesis, even though she discussed potentially sensitive matters in advance. "At this point, I'm just grieved that the issue of the Trinity warrants no further attention from an evangelical apologetics organization, ostensibly because of political pressures," she said.

She said she was also surprised when after her formal Q&A seminary students approached her asking questions about a "correct view of complementarianism."

"Several young men asked how it was that I believed that they would not stand before God … to give an account and to intercede for their wives," she wrote on her blog. "I was incredulous."

"I was not talking to people who were in the formal patriarchy movement, as I would anticipate this response," she wrote. "THESE WERE BAPTIST SEMINARY STUDENTS! Where and how and by whom were they taught that they would stand before God as an intercessor for their wives? It grieves me to think about this and the three young men who asked these earnest questions of me. And I don't know how any believer in Christ could actually think that as a creature that is unable to sanctify themself would presume that they could sanctify or intercede for another human being, female or otherwise. This experience, for me, really demonstrated the insidious and subtle effect of these teachings, because that kind of reasoning makes sense if one believes that woman is ontologically, or by essence, lesser than man."

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

Also see:

Seminary Magazine Describes 'Biblical' Womanhood

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