John Piper and Complementarian Figure Skating

My well-meaning, Calvinist, complementarian friends seem determined to convince me that complementarianism is GOOD FOR ME.  Like holy nutritionists, or zealous lactation consultants, they come to me armed with plenty of facts, figures, and John Piper articles about how true complementarianism benefits both parties, how healthy it will make your marriage, and how it’s God’s beautiful Gospel Design to show Christ to the world.

One of Piper’s favorite analogies is figure skating. [Read Piper’s “Olympic Lessons for Husbands and Wives.”] Those beautiful, skillful figure skating pairs don’t jostle about, trying to decide who the leader is, Piper says.  They practice, learn their roles, trust each other, and then produce something that’s beautiful for the whole world to see.

The problem is, Piper later contradicts himself inside of the very analogy he’s provided: “….complementarians don’t think all the roles defined for us are based merely on competencies. So in a relationship you don’t just ask: Who is smarter? Or more articulate? Or physically stronger? Or faster? Or a better reader? Or neater? [emphasis mine] And so on. You ask, more significantly and more fundamentally: Is the man as man, created by God with a built-in deep sense — an inclination, a disposition, something deeper than cultural, deeper than societal, deeper than upbringing — a sense of responsibility deep in his soul to nurture and provide for and protect and take life-giving initiatives with the women in his life?” [John Piper’s Message to Ray Rice]

So, our roles are not defined for us based on competencies.  Who’s stronger? Smarter? Faster? A better reader? That’s not what defines our roles.

I’ve got to wonder, has Piper, (or any of my complementarian friends) ever seen what happens when a figure skater drops his partner?

Try the 52 second mark here:

Or the 7-8 second mark here:

This one, at the 2:09 mark is very interesting:

(See, even though *she* fully recovered, the male skater was so traumatized by dropping her, that he couldn’t perform properly for months, and had to see a sports therapist to get over the accident.)

You can watch a horrible drop play out in slow-motion, starting at the 10 second mark, right here:

John Piper uses a complicated, intricate, deadly sport, which takes thousands of hours of practice in order to master, to show us that leadership and submission shouldn’t be dependent upon competencies.

It doesn’t add up. 

It doesn’t make sense.

Two common objections to Egalitarianism are: “Even Starfleet has rank.  Every military in history has a chain of command, and you can’t simply claim independence from that chain and do your own thing.” Yes, that’s true.  But Starfleet doesn’t give ranks based on race, species, gender, or any other biological or spiritual qualification.  Rank and authority in any military system are given based on proven competencies and hard work—with the corresponding knowledge that your authority means people’s lives are in your hands.  You’ve been given this rank because you’ve demonstrated that people can trust you with their lives.

Rank can also be taken away if you demonstrate that people *can’t* trust you with their lives.

Another objection is, “You’re showing extreme examples here.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of figure skating pairs that happen without accidents.” Yes, but these pairs have practiced for thousands upon thousands of hours.  You’re asking me, as a married woman, to engage in figure skating with a man, regardless of whether or not he has proven himself competent to do so.

You say the scripture tells me to do this.

I say no, it doesn’t.

I have been dropped enough times, and broken enough bones, to say out loud, “I’m not going to submit to any human being, in any area of life, who hasn’t proved by his actions that he is a trustworthy authority in this area.”

In the past two years, my husband has earned my respect.  By his actions.  By his repentance.  By his following through with genuine change.  He doesn’t get my respect, or my submission, for continually dropping me on the ice and making the same mistakes over and over again.  Like Zacchaeus of old, he demonstrated the change in his heart with change in his actions.

That is a man that I can trust to lift me up over his shoulders, and not break my neck in the process.

7 thoughts on “John Piper and Complementarian Figure Skating

  1. So much is rolling through my mind to respond to this. First I want to express how sorry I am that you’ve been broken by those who were supposed to cherish you. Complementarian or egalitarian, there is no reason for any form of abuse – and if there is abuse, it is sin, not on the part of the victim, the abuser holds all blame. That being said, I still feel as though there is room for submission to male headship in the family (and in church, though the Lord knows that some of the men running things in churches are terrible people who are not meant for their position).

    My own husband and I have been through hell and back in our relationship. He has not always been someone who I would willingly submit to. He has abused his headship and our relationship has suffered. Thank God, and God alone, that my husband has grown (through counselling, prayer, study) to be a man that I can willingly submit to, and trust.

    This isn’t always the case and it’s far more likely that this is the exception rather than the norm. I’m probably rambling a bit here but I just wanted to share that brokenness can be healed, and while that NEVER excuses abuse, it is there. <3

  2. Another thing to consider here is that not all couples want to have a figure skating type of relationship. Many people have found that honoring and respecting one another as equals in Christ is a much healthier relationship. When Scripture is read in context more perfectly, we can see that Paul promotes unity in love in Ephesians and does not ascribe authority to husbands or slavic obedience to wives.

    As a believer and teacher for 45 years I’ve heard lots of stories from married couples. The most common is the problem of the demeaning of wives by husbands. When a person is given free reign to control and make decisions over another person’s life without any qualifications or limits as patriarchalists and comps do, the most frequent response by women is to want out of such a relationship. And that with good reason. It is better to live alone than be compelled to put up with emotional, mental, intellectual and/or physical abuse in one’s daily life.

  3. Bravo!

    You deftly show how Piper has spoken out of both sides of his mouth, his misdirection is akin to a magic trick which you have exposed by showing the details of how he did it. Thanks.

    It is not a role system that comps teach as roles are temporary and fluid, it is not even a rank system as ranks can change, it is a caste system where one is born into a level that has more power or a level where one has less power and there is nothing one can do to change this.

  4. I’ve heard that argument about Starfleet or a business having hierarchies. But guess what? Churches and homes are supposed to be FAMILY not an organization. Simple.

    1. That’s a good point. I wonder where we started thinking of hierarchies as being necessary to marriage? Even the John & Staci Eldredge stress the importance of praying and talking until you come to a consensus. And poor C.S. Lewis—he was hyper complementarian until he met and married Joy. 😀

      1. I want to copy my reply to someone on the Ezer Rising Facebook page who said:

        “I have to admit that I was a bit confused about the point of the videos of the falls. Were you saying that when things go wrong, often, it’s the woman who suffers most? Because that’s a perfect analogy.”

        I replied:

        “Thanks for letting me know if something wasn’t clear!

        I was saying that choosing a leader based on **anything** but skill has horrible consequences for the partner, especially in something as risky as figure skating.

        Too often, women in the church are told to “trust God when your husband makes a bad decision.” The consequences of a disastrous decision to the woman and the family are not even figured into the equation by church leaders!

        If a woman knows that “XYZ decision of her husband’s” is *bad*, and yet still “submits” to it, it’s too often called “faith.” Faith in “God’s created order,” faith in “The Bible,” or even just plain “obedience.”

        Horribly, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego can even be invoked, “Whatever happens, we will not bow down.” Even if you’re thrown into the flames. 🙁

        My husband and I are still paying the price for my “submission” in many areas of our marriage, years and years after the fact. If only I’d known that “questioning his authority” was in fact a command, that I was to be as “iron sharpening iron,” or the one helping him when he falls, or that he was to trust my wisdom….things would have been very different.

        Instead, I swallowed my doubts, claimed to have “faith,” and was shocked when I was [figuratively] dropped on the ice.

        Complementarians then said over and over again, “Well, that wasn’t True Complementarianism.™ If it was, either you wouldn’t have been dropped, or he wouldn’t have made a stupid move.”

        I think they’re horrified to admit that, yes, it actually is. Otherwise, they wouldn’t advocate for leadership based on *anything* but competency. They don’t want to tell you about all the risks. They can’t sell that. They can’t even comprehend that.

        Or worse, they don’t care. 🙁 They don’t have to sit on anyone’s shoulders, or be tossed about by the wrists. It’s not their life or livelihood or faith or future on the line.”

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