Natural Complementarians or Natural Contrarians?

Women do have moral suasion over men. But it can go either way.

So I do agree that marriage, with both a wife and a husband, is beneficial to society. This benefits singles as well, as they too come from a family. And we see this in the cultural mandate. But it isn’t just because of a woman’s influence or virtue, as these statistics show. We need men with virtue to step up as fathers. This is a real crisis in our culture today. There are many women in abusive relationships who are hurt by this assertion that their virtue should influence their spouse’s sexual impulses and aggressive energies. Rather than inward beckonings, we need to uphold and promote law in society. Marriage between one man and one woman is a part of that. So is incarcerating men who are violent.

Alastair Roberts wrote a thoughtful response to my First Things article, where I disagreed with Glenn Stanton’s Why Men and Women Are Not Equal. I am thankful for this interaction to my article, and there is much in Roberts’ response that I wholeheartedly agree with. His is the kind of writing on gender that produces real fruit, for which I am grateful to see.

And yet much of his response is a rebuttal to my writing, which I am a little confused about. He makes three points where I failed in my response. He also believes that I misread Stanton and wrongly critiqued him.

Stanton’s article, which I believe Byrd misrepresents as suggesting that women are the holders of virtue, grounds its case in an account of the empirical nature of men, arguing that men have a particular tendency to certain vices, which social relations with women help to curb.

This is where I am scratching my head. I was responding to Stanton’s clear affirmation that, “the most powerful and important influence women have had on our nation’s founding, growth, and success is this: They make men behave. All their other important contributions are secondary.” This is profoundly insulting to read. I recognized familiar evangelical tropes in Stanton’s argument. Even his title, Why Women and Men Are Not Equal, foreshadows his point that women are the more virtuous sex.

Roberts, on the other hand, does not make this argument, but rather wants to uphold the empirical differences between the sexes and the benefits of recognizing them. To that, there is much that we can agree on. Roberts’ article has far different arguments than Stanton’s. Do men and women have different challenges and strengths when it comes to virtue? Do we learn more about maleness as we see them relate to women? This is worth exploring. But I was compelled to counter Stanton’s claim that one sex is more virtuous than the other—specifically, is women’s greatest contribution to society to make men behave?

I would like to respond to the three areas where Roberts observes that I’ve failed:

First, she fails to attend to the pronounced empirical differences between men and women as groups that Stanton highlighted. 

Roberts says that while I give the impression that yes, there are differences between the sexes; I downplay this as if our statuses are indifferent, choosing to focus on divinely commanded gender roles. He continues, “Christian teaching, however, is better understood as a clarification and intensification of internal beckonings of being that we experience as men and women within the world, or as the expression of a music for which our natures are discovered to be the proper resonance chamber.”

I will admit that sometimes I do downplay the differences between the sexes, as I am constantly bombarded with a stereotype rather than true engagement. This is where I see a major weakness in the empirical argument. And I disagree that Christian teaching is better understood by clarifying internal beckonings. How is Christian teaching better understood? By the clear teaching of Scripture. The Christian message, the gospel message of salvation, is outside of us. It is an announcement to both men and women, not to use our virtuous gifting to help the other sex, but of the Son of God coming as our Savior because no one is holy without the Lord. Internal beckonings can get us into a lot of trouble. Even for believers, the Spirit always confirms his leading by the Word. That is how Christian teaching is better understood, by the means of grace God has given his church.*

But I do agree with Roberts that there are observable differences in the sexes, and that our hormonal makeup affects those differences. This isn’t something I addressed in my article. I’ve written a lot, particularly in two of my books, on how women have influence over men. Studies show that we have a relational gift, that people disclose more about themselves and have more intimate communication when women are involved in the dialogue. Our propensity for intimate conversation helps us to be persuasive to others. But this can also be used in a very sinful way. It can be both a strength and a weakness when manipulated to serve ourselves.

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